Shoppers still desire to check out with a sales associate, according to data from Headliner Labs.

One of the greatest challenges in translating an in-store shopping experience online is the lack of a salesperson. A salesperson can distill a vast assortment of products down to the one or two options best suited to a potential customer’s specific needs. Choosing a black mascara at a Sephora store becomes far less onerous when a helpful salesperson can direct you to “exactly what you’re looking for” from among hundreds of options. By contrast, buying black mascara on sephora.com or any other beauty site is overwhelming, impersonal and difficult to navigate without personalized help finding what best suits an individual’s needs. The result? Nonconversion. After all, the brain hates uncertainty.

Enter on-site conversational selling. Programming on-site conversational experiences with recommendation algorithms can serve as a virtual salesperson in the e-commerce context. And the results are immediate and high-impact. The reframing of on-site chat from a customer-service tool to a key sales channel can increase on-site conversions by up to 10 percent. Here, we explain how.

On-site Chat Sales

We all know the familiar on-site chat widget, usually hovering on the bottom right corner of a web page as a sometimes-utilized tool for brands to answer FAQs or provide post-purchase customer service. In other words, it is often intended to serve the two extreme poles of an e-commerce funnel: top-of-funnel web visitors with basic questions, plus bottom-of-funnel customers already post-purchase who have customer service needs. But emerging technology in AI, chatbots and personalization shows that on-site conversational technology is actually at the forefront of a revolution in the e-commerce sales funnel. Chat makes it possible to target at scale those at the highest-opportunity point in the funnel: high-intent web visitors at precisely the moment they need the tiniest nudge to conversion, with the exact content that will convert them.

Image courtesy of Headliner Labs. 

Conversational Selling in Action

Leveraging AI and chat technology, every brand can connect with consumers at the most vital and high-conversion points in their online shopping experience. These experiences are defined by three strategies: they are proactive, personalized and structured as a sales funnel.

Let’s start with proactive. A customer visits a shoe retailer’s web site in search of a new pair of sneakers. This retailer knows that a common cause of nonconversion is uncertainty about size. Upon opening the “footwear” page, the customer sees the following message emerge from a visible chat widget: “Hi there! Looking for a new pair of shoes? Try our foot guide to find the perfect fit for you!” She is directed to a conversational flow in which she is asked a few questions that an algorithm processes instantaneously and then is told exactly the sneaker size she should be looking for. As she browses the site, her uncertainty about sizing has been eliminated. Similarly, had she opened the “sale” page, she could have seen this chat message appear: “Trying to stay on a budget? We’ve got discounts of up to 60 percent across our product offerings — I can help you find the best deal for you!”

The power of proactivity is expounded when coupled with customization. As chat prompts appear on the web pages via different triggers — say, lingering on a specific page for several seconds — visitors can be engaged with content that gives them a customized, individually relevant experience. This includes conversational versions of fit guides, shade finders, personal styling, store locators and any other information set that has been proven to increase conversions. Rather than having to navigate a blunt, noncustomized fit guide, for example, a brand can use a conversational flow to make the experience proactive, personal and easy to use.

Here’s the fit guide the Gap has on-site:

Image courtesy of Headliner Labs. 

By contrast, here is what a conversational version of a fit guide looks like:

Image courtesy of Headliner Labs. 

The experience can be 100 percent automated or can be integrated smoothly into a company’s existing CRM for any user who needs human attention, with a seamless automated-to-human handoff.

Many companies are capitalizing on conversational selling, and one of the most innovative is Dr. Brandt Skincare. On their site, Dr. Brandt greets site visitors with a friendly chat prompt offering to create a personalized skin-care regimen. When activated, the widget opens a Facebook Messenger chat window in which a user is asked a set of five personal skin-care questions, about their age, skin concerns, skin type, environment and hours of sleep. Data are ingested instantly to process a unique, comprehensive skin-care regimen from among the line’s product selection. Rather than having to navigate dozens of product pages and consume detailed product descriptions in order to determine the best products for them, the site visitor is proactively presented with the option to have it all whittled down into the ideal skin-care regimen for them. In essence, the experience serves as an automated and scalable proxy for an expert salesperson who knows the line and recommends the perfect products for each potential customer.

Here is what this looks like on the Dr. Brandt mobile site:

Image courtesy of Headliner Labs. 

And, for desktop shoppers, on the Dr. Brandt desktop site…

Image courtesy of Headliner Labs. 

Of course, all results are shoppable as individual products and as a bundle, which speaks to the third strategy: Chat experiences should be structured to lead users further down a clear sales process by recommending products and having them easily accessible for purchase.

Transforming on-site chat from a sometimes-used customer-service channel into a highly relevant sales channel nets real results: Customers who engage with these types of chats are four times more likely to convert and spend twice as much as customers who do not. Proactively engaging each web visitor with personalized information that simplifies the purchase journey is proving to be an essential component of any e-commerce strategy. Indeed, the B-to-B parallel for conversational selling is particularly apt here. In the B-to-B context, Drift has had tremendous success using on-site conversational experiences to help other companies qualify potential leads and engage prospects. According to Drift, their B-to-B customers have increased net new leads by 70 percent and their opportunities by 170 percent using conversational tactics. In the transforming e-commerce and m-commerce space, this is a key feature that can set brands and retailers apart, converting more high-intent web visitors to purchasing customers and netting the company greater revenue.

Dana Gibber and Caroline Klatt are the cofounders of Headliner Labs.

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