It is common knowledge that commerce now shows a general tendency towards moving online.
Fashion brands are also keeping up to speed and implementing online shopping platforms in addition to their traditional offline stores.
Most retailers develop mobile applications to make online shopping increasingly easier and quicker for their customers.
At the same time, with online shopping we are losing the individualized approach, the “personal touch” we are used to experiencing in ordinary brick-and-mortar stores.
This is especially felt in fashion stores. When we are shopping for clothes, especially brand name clothes, we want to feel special, we want to be attended to and catered for, we want to leave the store looking our best and feeling on the top of the world.
Unfortunately, with all the ease and convenience of online shopping, a shopping cart cannot say “this dress looks like it was made especially for you, ma’am” or “may I suggest a scarf which would look just right with this blouse?”
Fashion brands are turning to technology, artificial intelligence, in particular, to recreate that personalized atmosphere of a beauty boutique right within their online applications.
To learn more about chatbots in retail, read our article How Chatbot Integration Benefits Ecommerce Retailers.
What does the fashion industry think of chatbots?
The fashion industry was among the first to recognize the value chatbots can bring to its online commerce.
A chatbot in ecommerce can supply that missing link between the customer and the retailer creating a personalized approach to each user while keeping the convenience of online shopping.
Many leading fashion and beauty brands have already adopted the chatbot technology to create an individualized customer experience.
We come across chatbots for Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Estée Lauder – this is just a short list of brands using chatbots for interacting with their customers.
Tommy Hilfiger was one of the groundbreakers in the chatbot universe implementing a Facebook chatbot in 2016.
When asked about the reasons and expectations of introducing a chatbot, Tommy Hilfiger gave the following explanation: “We’re really focused on going directly to the consumer. We are obviously distributed in our own stores and department stores, but going directly to the consumer is really part of the motive and the future of the omnichannel process.”
So, let’s look closer at some of the fashion brand chatbots to see if they are really up to the task.
Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot – fashion shopping in one place
Once you start a Facebook chat with Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, it immediately engages you in a vivid conversation, first introducing itself as a chatbot and then offering a variety of options.
You can browse the collections, proceed directly to the catalog of available items, or have the chatbot assist you in selecting an outfit. With a half-dozen questions, the bot filters the collections to suggest the items fitting your style – if you said you prefer casual clothing in neutral colors, this is what you are going to get.
The chatbot puts together the entire outfits including shoes and accessories so that you can immediately get an idea of your new Tommy Hilfiger look.
If you like what you see, there is the “Add to cart” option which, after walking you through a couple more questions about your size and the country you are in, chatbot finally redirects you to Tommy Hilfiger’s website where you can see your shopping cart ready for checkout.
At any point in the conversation, you are getting some navigation options – continue browsing, try a different style, see the video of a collection show.
The chatbot indeed keeps you engaged and perfectly fits the designer’s goal of “going directly to the consumer”.
Victoria’s Secret chatbot – navigator in the realm of lingerie shopping
Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie brand, chose a different approach to communicating with customers via a chatbot.
At the moment, the chatbot is dedicated to shopping for bras – a somewhat delicate affair where every woman would appreciate both expert advice and friendly companionship.
The chat opens with a suggestion to view the new designs created by the brand.
If you want to take a look, you can browse the new collection. The chatbot leads you through the available options.
However, when you choose to view the item in more detail or to make a purchase, you are immediately brought to Victoria’s Secret website where the entire line of products is displayed in all colors and sizes.
You also come across the prompts to sign up for Victoria’s Secret newsletters and to view the FAQ. The important point is that the chatbot offers to contact an associate with inquiries that are not pre-programmed and cannot be resolved by the software, thus needing human input.
As opposed to Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, for Victoria’s Secret, it serves mostly as the initial navigation menu redirecting the user to the corresponding page on the website.
The actual shopping – from the selection of color, design, and size to check out – already occurs on the website, while the chatbot merely assists in jumping to the corresponding page.
Burberry’s chatbot – luxury shopping and fashion shows on the same Facebook page
The Burberry chatbot starts with inviting you backstage where you can see models parading in exquisite Burberry outfits at the latest fashion shows.
At the same time, you can browse the current collections and get complete looks with the chatbot suggesting matching items and accessories.
The navigation is rather multi-directional, and you can easily find your way around.
The collections are shown with the prices for each item together with the “Shop now” links which lead to Burberry’s website.
FAQ, delivery, refunds – can chatbots handle those as well?
In addition to shopping for items, chatbots support answers to frequently asked questions and information on delivery terms, return conditions and other related subjects.
However, in such cases, chatbots tend to redirect the customer to the brand’s website where the detailed description can be found.
Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, as you can see from the image below, did not handle the question about the refund policy very well, however, suggested to contact the user by email or transfer the chat to the customer representative.
The question about the countries where the brand ships was a bit easier and the chatbot pointed to a webpage where the complete information can be found.
Victoria’s Secret chatbot handles all questions from within the FAQ menu where depending on the category you select, you are transferred to the corresponding webpage.
Currently, chatbots still maintain user redirection to the website for all questions requiring extensive answers.
At the same time, with the tendency towards including as much ecommerce functionality into chatbots as possible, we can expect chatbots to be able to get complete information without leaving the chat.
Chatbots or brand applications – will the former replace the latter?
At the moment, most fashion brands which we have analyzed use chatbots as a supporting feature for their websites or mobile applications.
At a certain point, when browsing the collection, getting a detailed answer to a question or checking out your shopping cart, you are anyway redirected to the retailer’s website or application to complete the operation.
However, this is going to change soon, as Facebook has implemented payment service integration in chatbots.
This means that you can complete the transaction directly from the chat without accessing any external resources.
Slack messenger is following with its integration with PayPal.
At the moment, only peer-to-peer transactions are supported, but since this ball has started rolling, payment via commerce chatbots may also be implemented soon.
And this is not without reason – according to comScore’s 2016 US Mobile App Report, about half of users never download new applications within a month.
This means that a brand aiming at getting a higher conversion rate from user visits to its Facebook page should take measures to keep the user on that page from the first click to check out.
If the user needs to download the application to complete the transaction, the chance of success will drop significantly.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, expressed the same observation at the F8 conference in 2016: “No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service they want to interact with.
We think you should be able to just message a business in the same way you message a friend”.
The trend is obvious – a chatbot should be able to provide complete customer service without redirection to other resources.
With the new integration with payment services, users can do their shopping totally within the messenger environment without switching back and forth between the chatbot and the application or website.
The pros and cons of chatbots in fashion retail
While chatbots in retail are an excellent means of providing essential customer service in online commerce, they still have a lot to learn.
Of course, with a chatbot, you can get through all the steps of viewing the available products, selecting the item, and making the purchase.
Also, chatbots are very helpful in providing answers to frequently asked questions, such as the delivery conditions, the refund policy, the store locations, etc.
However, when asked a question which does not fit into the programmed pattern, the chatbots tend to become confused and either lead you with more questions or suggest transferring your chat to a human assistant (and thumbs up to the brands who do engage assistants to monitor the chats and take over the conversation quickly!).
At the same time, the benefits of chatbots for the fashion retail industry are quite numerous:
- Customer engagement
Chatbots can provide valuable support to the brand by creating a positive customer experience, introducing first-time customers to the brand, offering not only the direct commercial service but also the brand-related entertainment, for example, backstage glimpses and latest fashion show highlights.
Implementing a chatbot to provide the basic consulting service can help the company to save costs, as maintaining a chatbot is more cost-efficient than employing a person to do the same work.
- Increased conversion rate
A chatbot which engages the customer from the first contact till checkout is likely to increase the conversion rate of the online store.
When the user gets all the information and service in the same place and can complete the transaction without switching to another page, they are more inclined to make a purchase instead of taking their time to think and maybe come back later.
- Market reach
Building a chatbot on a globally existing messaging platform, such as Facebook Messenger or Slack, gives the retail brand an entirely new vast channel of reaching its regular and prospective customers.
The brand presence and awareness can increase significantly.
Nowadays, the role of technology in online commerce cannot be overestimated.
Our everyday schedules are getting tighter, and more often than not we prefer to do our shopping without visiting physical stores.
However, we may still miss the exquisite sensation of “being special” which we always feel in fashion stores.
So, it is up to the retail brands to train their chatbots to bring the luxury shopping atmosphere directly to their customers’ home.
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