American Eagle chatbot

American Eagle, its intimates and loungewear label Aerie and Nordstrom are the latest brands to engage the help of robots in efforts to serve the holiday shopper this season. Each has begun experimenting with chatbots, which are a mobile-friendly way to automate conversations with human users through artificial intelligence, on both chat app Kik and Facebook Messenger.

The AEO bot helps people find recommended purchases based on a quiz about the intended recipient, and the customers can then click to a web view of a category page on the brand’s web site, acting as an early form of chat-based commerce. The Aerie Bot is focused more on branding than selling and offers content such as bra fit and care.

AEO partnered with chatbot platform Pandorabots Inc., to design and deploy the bots with a distinct persona that matches the brand voice; for Aerie, this meant focusing on body positivity and promoting confidence in young women. AEO chief technology officer Colin Bodell said that it was really important to not pretend to be human. “Our customers are very sophisticated and can smell inauthentic messages and communications.”

Thus far, he said that the reaction and feedback has been “incredibly valuable,” and that within weeks, the chatbots acquired more than double the average number of users the brand adds monthly across all social channels combined. The brand is promoting the bots on its social channels in addition to Facebook ads.

The philosophy of why bots, why now, Bodell said, is to be as convenient as possible and to meet the customer “wherever they are;” this is why they also invested in a Kik bot, as the platform is popular among teens. The bot began testing just before Black Friday and is designed to engage users, boost purchases and help with customer service between now and Christmas.

He said this was a natural step for the brand, given its appeal with Gen Z and Millennials. “Chat as an interface is particularly compelling because it facilitates personal, ongoing, two-way conversations. Chatbots provide us the intelligence to engage our customers with the right message at the right time.”

Nordstrom teamed with mobile messaging platform Snaps to develop the retailer’s first chatbot, which will be available until Dec. 24. The retailer’s bot asks several questions and responds with gift ideas; it then reroutes to the company web site to complete the purchasing process.

Pandorabots principal Lauren Kunze, who worked with AEO, expects that by next year, most major brands and Fortune 500 companies will be actively developing or launching chatbots to offer customer support, commerce, brand engagement and marketing.

Other retailers who have begun using bots this holiday shopping season are Burberry, The Estée Lauder Cos.’ London beauty store No. 6 Mortimer and Europe’s T.K. Maxx. After bots came to Messenger in April, there are now approximately 34,000 of them being used on Facebook alone. Tommy Hilfiger, Spring and Everlane have also experimented with chatbots, which are also coming to companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, WeChat and Slack.