Apple’s Business Chat stepped out of testing last month armed with major partners in banking, home improvement and more. But if the fashion industry chalks the service up to nuts-and-bolts retail fare, it should think again.
The new service, which brings customer service powers to Apple’s iMessage chat app, may have launched with Discover, Lowe’s and The Home Depot, among others. But fashion brands have taken notice, said Rurik Bradbury, global head of conversational strategy for LivePerson. The company’s LiveEngage platform has worked with more than 18,000 partners — from Adobe to L’Oréal — and as one of Apple’s key partners, it lined up several of these major retailers for Business Chat’s launch.
Bradbury told WWD that LivePerson has been fielding interest from large fashion brands, and the benefits could be immense: Despite flagging iPhone X adoption, Apple still caters to more than 85 million iPhone owners in the U.S.
WWD spoke with Bradbury to learn more about the service and how fashion brands can best use it to boost their mobile business.
WWD: How would you describe the appeal of Apple Business Chat?
Rurik Bradbury: It’s unlimited in the verticals and the horizontal parts it can address. It’s not just customer care. It’s also sales, marketing — any kind of interaction.
It was deliberately done this way, quite carefully by design. Apple told brands that you have to be able to answer different questions in a thread. You can’t have one thread for customer service, a different one for sales, and so on. Just like you don’t have separate threads with a friend to discuss different issues.
WWD: There are plenty of chat and chat bot solutions already. So what problem does this solve?
R.B.: Retail is a tough, competitive, fragmented marketplace. It’s very hard — and extremely expensive — to get consumers to download an app or pay attention to it. People don’t want to download one app for every different apparel company. It’s just too many.
Here, they can go from pressing a button, to having a conversation, to buying something in a few seconds. You have persistence, so it’s unlike a web site, which disappears after you leave. Apple Business Chat stays there, and you can jump back into the conversation at anytime.
WWD: Are there other particular features that should appeal to the fashion sector?
R.B.: Apple Business Chat has the benefits of an app — payments with Apple Pay, calendaring, authentication with Touch ID or Face ID and widgets, which you can custom build. Widgets will be very important for the apparel industry to provide visuals for clothes.
For fashion and apparel, the huge problem is abandonment. Apple Pay is a big help. A lot of people may abandon a purchase, but will go ahead if they can pay with Apple Pay. It has the shipping info, delivery, billing. It makes sales much easier.
Apple also blended the app and the messenger. You can use it without the app installed, but if you have the app, the buttons inside messages can bring the functionality from the app into messaging. For example, Home Depot launched 3-D view that tells you, not just which store, but the aisle and how far down the aisle to go.
In fashion, [think] 360 views of clothing or interactive size charts. It’s not just text. It’s graphics, galleries. Functionality, too. You can tap on options, pictures.
WWD: Your platform brought Home Depot, Discover and Lowe’s to Apple’s chat service. What about other retailers and sectors? Are you seeing interest from the fashion industry?
R.B.: There’s a huge amount of interest, I can say. We’re talking to many large companies — huge megabrands — in this space, because they’ve benefited a lot from features that Apple has done in recent years. Here, it has created a great example of conversational commerce.
WWD: What are the differences between Business Chat and free third-party services?
R.B.: There’s definitely a trust issue. People are being monetized, marketed to, as their price of entry to be on the platform. One way to think of it is, “If you’re not paying money, then you’re the product.”
It’s a very intimate thing, this conversation with users. On the other side, if someone sends a message complaining that “I had a problem with the service” or “You shipped something that never arrived,” you don’t want to have that advertised against.