Mark Zuckerberg


This is the first holiday season in which consumers are kicking the tires on Facebook Messenger chatbots and, among retailers, the focus has been as much on engaging the customer as on making a sale.

Among the most recent firms that have begun tapping into the potential of chatbots are Burberry, The Estée Lauder Cos.’ London beauty store No. 6 Mortimer, and Europe’s T.K. Maxx, which are experimenting with new bots that tie into holiday campaigns using Facebook’s mobile messaging service.

Although each company has a different approach to testing the capabilities, the emphasis on a streamlined objective keeps customer expectations managed while providing a streamlined service for one-on-one interaction, especially on mobile.

Estée Lauder’s offering for No. 6 Mortimer is the first time that a beauty group in the U.K. and Ireland has used a bot, and it lets a customer complete a purchase within Messenger by paying with PayPal, without going to an outside web site. The bot lets customers browse products from brands such as Estée Lauder UK, La Mer and Clinique, then choose to pick up purchases in the store, have them delivered by courier or delivered by mail.

Mark Lapicki, director of retail innovation at The Estée Lauder Companies U.K. and Ireland, said the pilot service was for “time-poor consumers seeking ultimate convenience, with immediate purchase and delivery of our products in as little as 60 minutes.” Ultimately the plan for the pilot is to offer direct conversation with a No. 6 Mortimer consultant.

Burberry, which debuted its first Messenger bot to coincide with London Fashion Week last September, created a four-minute video series that tells the story of the brand’s founding by Thomas Burberry.

Customers can access the content by clicking on “Message” on the brand’s Facebook page. They can then elect to go through the story by clicking on icons to continue or they can browse through gift ideas. Although the shopping function is contained mostly in the chat window, if customers want to buy, the bot redirects them to the corresponding page on the brand’s web site. They can also choose to “live chat” with a consultant, mixing artificial intelligence with human interaction.

As with the fashion week bot, this offering is seen as another storytelling tool and a more immediate customer experience for mobile customers. To promote it, Burberry is running a range of Facebook ads that offer users on the social platform the option to “chat now” with its holiday bot.

T.K. Maxx gave its bot a personality in the form of Baby Oracle, “a gifting baby genius,” that creates a personalized video about what the customer wants for Christmas, based on the interaction.

After Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg introduced bots for Messenger in April, momentum for chat-based commerce has surged. There are now an estimated 34,000 bots currently deployed on Messenger, and Facebook recently introduced ad products that let a user click to begin a chat with a brand.

Tommy Hilfiger, Spring and Everlane are among retail brands that have experimented with chatbots, which are also slowly coming to the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, WeChat and Slack.

Ultimately, the hope among experts is that Facebook’s 1.7 billion users will embrace what stands to be, at the very least, an improved customer service experience — and eventually a tool that streamlines many mobile commerce hiccups.

Estée Lauder Companies U.K. and Ireland president Chris Good said that consumers are looking for instant access to products and services, and that “convenience is the new luxury.”

“We are constantly looking at new ways to provide greater choice and flexibility, trialing new features like Messenger alongside live chat and other existing digital offerings while continuing to deliver a ‘high touch’ level of service across all channels,” Good said.

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