Apple has been offering the service as a beta test to larger companies — from Burberry, Home Depot and West Elm to Wells Fargo, DirecTV and T-Mobile, among others — numbering more than 20 tech partners and hundreds of brands.
Now its reach has grown to cover a potential flood of indie retailers.
The company has been testing the tech with dozens of merchants, including Hodinkee and State Bicycle. It will now roll out to all 800,000 small and medium-size merchants in the Shopify platform. They just have to switch it on in the Shopify Ping app.
Support for the tool comes via Shopify Ping. Released last year, the iOS mobile app gives sellers a centralized place for customer conversations and automated marketing workflows.
“We really don’t think that there’s anything more sacred or important than allowing for an entrepreneur to develop, maintain and build a relationship with their customers,” Michael Perry, Shopify’s director of product, told WWD. “And so for some time, we’ve been taking a very omnichannel approach to allowing customers and allowing entrepreneurs to sell where their customers are. We took that one step further by building Shopify Ping.”
He described Ping as akin to an intelligent inbox, though until now, the only messaging platform it supported was Facebook Messenger. With Apple Business Chat, sellers can chat with customers using the iPhone’s Messages app, just like they text their friends.
The marketing workflows that course through Ping are automated thanks to bots. The tech comes courtesy of the company’s 2016 acquisition of Kit, a firm that makes intelligent marketing assistants. According to Perry, who was the founder and chief executive officer of Kit, the bots can lend a hand for things like buying ads, setting up e-mail marketing and promotions, among other things.
The help is needed, he said, since some 50 percent of Shopify merchants run their businesses on their own.
But one thing the bots can’t do is chat with customers. That’s not a technical limitation — Shopify simply wants its merchants to keep the human touch in dealing with customers.
“We shifted the bot focus to focusing on that back office experience,” Perry continued. “We really want entrepreneurs to be able to spend their time talking directly to their customers, versus their customers talking to some decision-tree bot.”
The goal is to humanize these contact points. “We believe it’s going to create elevated buying experiences, improve customer support and restore the intimacy that we are all familiar with in the physical world of connecting to and having a relationship with our favorite local merchants,” Perry added.
Shopify’s Apple Business Chat support is available starting today.