The notion of the world of ecommerce straying into the communicative channels typically reserved for friends and family members isn’t new, exactly — in fact, it’s been around a fair few years now. Chatbots have been lining up sales in Facebook Messenger windows, and Google has been pressing local contact details for search results, trying to blend the convenience of the digital world with the personal nuances of interpersonal exchanges.
It’s all part of what’s known as conversational commerce: turning the typically-asynchronous back-and-forth of online retail into something much closer to human conversation (similar to the kind you’d get from an in-store assistant at a luxury clothing emporium).
And the most recent addition to this area is Apple’s Business Chat, currently in beta but already in wide release across the globe and picking up attention. Will Apple’s immense influence make it the kick needed to turn conversational commerce into the new standard? Let’s consider it.
What Apple’s Business Chat involves
The model that has come to work effectively for many brands is using Facebook Messenger contacts — you press a button to add a chatbot (or live chat) contact, and can then receive messages from that contact through Facebook. Apple’s Business Chat functions in a fairly similar way. When you use the native search function on your Apple device, any result for a business signed up to Business Chat will provide an option to start a conversation in Messages.
As noted, then, it’s nothing revolutionary… but from a technological standpoint, neither was the original iPhone. It came out after the LG Prada and resembled it to the extent that many suspected Apple of copying the design (even though it realistically couldn’t have), yet the Prada would never have competed with the iPhone because of Apple’s superior interface design. Apple has always known what other brands continue to struggle with: impressions matter.
What this means for the consumer
Despite Google having offered comparable options for some time now, most people aren’t overly familiar with them. Even people who prefer Android devices have never been given much of a reason to use them. But with Apple likely to push the possibilities of Business Chat very strongly — and, more importantly, push brands to jump on the bandwagon — this could be leading to people viewing conversational commerce as a fixture.
The tight-knit connectivity of the Apple ecosystem is one of its major selling points, and something that makes long-time customers (even dissatisfied ones) very reluctant to leave and risk losing everything they invested in it. If the Business Chat beta goes well, it will further strengthen that formidable system for the consumer.
Reaching your customers wherever you can
If you’re an online brand eager to meet your customers (existing or prospective) wherever they might be, the advent of Business Chat might well be a great point at which to start experimenting with chatbots and/or live chat systems. Just think about the practical value of being able to recommend products to customers no matter where they are. And all the conversational data you’ll accrue will help you fine-tune your marketing.
You don’t have to go all-out with AI tech right away — if anything, that’s likely to prove counter-intuitive, because you’ll inevitably make mistakes. Instead, just try registering with Apple, and read through as much documentation as you can. If you can follow guides and implement something basic but functional, that will be far better than something overly-complicated that never leaves the testing phase.
Is Business Chat a game-changer?
Conversational commerce is going to become a staple sooner or later. It’s inevitable. In a time when you can find a decent ecommerce business for sale, slap some PPC ads on it, and start running a dropshipping operation, simply going through the motions won’t get you a slice of the pie. You need to keep finding new ways to stand out from the competition, and that’s chat.
That said, is Apple’s Business Chat the thing that will make that future a reality? Well, I think it’s too early to tell. It may not be practically innovative, but the Apple brand is immensely powerful — the iPhone made smartphones accessible and fun, the iPod did the same for MP3 players, and the MacBook look alone is enough to drive sales.
Ultimately, it really comes down to how the top brands use Business Chat. If they really get behind it, and start working it into their marketing, then I’d say there’s an excellent chance that it will prove the game-changer — though the name could perhaps use some workshopping.