Kik Interactive

The bots are getting smarter.

Kik Interactive is unleashing a series of branded and non-branded chat bots with enhanced capabilities to deepen interactions between customers, and beauty and fashion companies participating on its messaging platform. The artificial intelligence-driven conversation tools can do everything from supplying product recommendations to showcasing the latest celebrity garb.

“Bots version 1.0 was a simple experience, and our vision of bots version 2.0 is to have the bots build a much better experience to enable you to bring bots into conversations you have with friends,” said Jaclyn Ling, director of retail at Kik. “It’s about having bots work together to help shape a more relevant and personalized experience for you.”

Kik’s next-level bots include what it’s dubbed concierge bots, and among those obliging bots are BeautyTube, which proposes tutorials applicable to makeup consumers are scouring; CelebStyle, which references outfits recently worn by the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner and Zendaya; TrendBot, a resource for identifying buzz-worthy fashion; and InspoBot, which suggests clothes suiting a range of occasions. Additional concierge bots are influencer bots from social-media personalities going by the handles PiinkSparkles, ThatGirlShaeXo, TheMakeupByDanielle, GettingPretty, JackieWyers and MissMikaylaG designed to dish out beauty advice and facilitate dialog with fans. CelebStyle, InspoBot and TrendBot were created with the consumer insights firm Stylitics.

Akin to concierges assisting guests inside hotels, these bots can guide Kik users already exploring bots from retailers and brands. “As a shopper, I might want to get inspiration from bloggers. If I’m searching for pencil skirt within the H&M bot, I can call up the InspoBot for blogger images of pencil skirts,” detailed Ling. “If I’m looking at a Nars blush, BeautyTube sends me videos specifically on Nars blush. Typically, a person might be on the Sephora web site and open up two or three tabs looking at products and then maybe another two or three tabs on makeup review web sites and another two or three tabs looking at YouTube. We are trying to replicate that experience within the bot.”

The branded bots on Kik’s messaging platform are essentially retailer- or brand-led communication pathways where customers connect with technology-powered customer service agents that can point them to specific items based on their requests or steer them to shopping carts or to destinations such as mobile sites where their requests can be handled. The bots learn the style and merchandise preferences of Kik users to improve exchanges and product prompts.

“Our Sephora bot on Kik uses AI technology to quickly answer client questions about products and trends,” said Bindu Shah, vice president of digital marketing at Sephora. “You can engage directly with the bot through the Kik platform by selecting whether you’re looking for a product or a tip in one of our top beauty categories. You can also engage by providing a few words describing what you’re looking for or interested in, for example, ‘red lipstick’ or ‘contouring.’ The bot is able to direct you to either a product recommendation or videos and direct links for more tips and information.”

To increase customers’ understanding of chat bots at the outset, Ling explained Kik counsels brands and retailers to narrow their focuses and not try to do too much with their bots initially. She mentioned Sephora aims to be a beauty educator through its bot; Victoria’s Secret’s bot concentrates on proffering information about bras, and H&M’s bot motivates users with outfit ideas.

“We come up with the one thing the brand wants to deliver to the user, and we teach the user about that,” said Ling. “With H&M, there’s been a very high outfit-per-user [number], and that tells that they are actually looking through outfits on H&M’s bot. With Sephora, we have a high number of average tips per user, which shows us they are using the bot to look at tips.”

On top of aiding interactions between customers and retailers or brands, Kik is endeavoring to amplify banter around commerce between peers. Users can introduce a branded bot into a discussion to solicit opinions on items from a pal as they might in a store. “I can say, ‘Look at men’s T-shirts at H&M,’ and my friend on the other side is seeing the same content as me. Instead of just screenshotting content, that person can click on it, buy it themselves and actually give me feedback,” said Ling. “This is our attempt in bots version 2.0 of leveraging chat to be more social for shopping.”

The purchasing part of the shopping process is in its infancy on Kik. While other messaging options, notably WeChat and Line in Asia, integrate payment, Kik doesn’t — at least, not yet. “Eventually pushing shopping and transactions is going to be important, but we need to nail down that experience of social shopping and discovery first,” remarked Ling. She continued, “I think it is a matter of time and getting people used to the idea of payments in chat and for shopping. China is ahead of North America with chat because a lot of people in China started on mobile versus desktop in North America. But teenagers nowadays, their first device is a phone, so that’s why we feel there’s a generation that is going to adapt to bots.”

Even without incorporating payment, Kik has an avid audience of teens that brands and retailers are eager to cultivate. The messaging app has amassed over 300 million active users. Broadening to the wider messaging landscape, Ling highlighted that there are more active users on messaging apps than the four largest social-media networks, and retailers and brands certainly have much to lose if they’re on the outs on apps where there are vast pools of possible customers. Shah said, “Kik is an important piece of our overall digital portfolio because of the level of engagement it allows with a younger, highly mobile and digitally-connected consumer.”