Shopping Reimagined: AI and Chat for an Enhanced Experience

This tool stands to empower both customers and retailers alike.

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By Derick Jaros

Sep 7, 2023

6 min
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In a brick-and-mortar shop, customers can ask a salesperson questions and get immediate, relevant answers. But when retail moved online, that exchange broke down. To simulate the in-store shopping experience, retailers quickly broadcasted their inventory online and made it easy to find via site search.

This helped shoppers find products quickly, but online conversion rates still lag behind brick-and-mortar shops. These online shoppers convert less than 3% of the time, according to Shopify – while in-store shoppers convert at a rate of up to 40%.

Site search has long been a staple of the online shopping experience. But while search certainly helps customers find products, it's actually chat – specifically, conversational AI – that engages shoppers in conversation, mimicking the personalised dialogue they have with salespeople in-store.

Both site search and chat can improve the customer's online shopping experience. But combined together, they stand to revolutionise e-commerce completely. By combining search and chat interfaces to create a brand new, optimised customer experience, you can streamline the critical exchange of information between your brand and your customer. And with this more personalised buyer journey, you can benefit from better online conversion rates.

The end result is an experience that bridges the divide between personalised in-store interactions and the ease of online shopping.

Here's how you can embrace this paradigm shift – and streamline online customer journeys.

Update Your UI to Improve Your UX

Today, most retailers have:

  • a search bar for browsing products and inventory

  • a chat box built on if-then statements to address frequently asked questions and connect customers to support agents

  • a recommendations engine, or guided buying flow

  • another search bar in the help area for non-product based queries.

This is far from a great user experience (UX). Customers often think of chat as the annoying pop-up box in the bottom right-hand corner of the website. And because chat has been a support channel for years now, many customers have had the same universal experience: chat alone doesn't always work. It gives canned responses, forces a linear buying journey and puts customers in queues for live support.

But with the rise of conversational AI, search and chat experiences are changing rapidly. Even Google has embraced AI by blending search and chat experiences into something entirely new with its new user interface (UI), the Google Search Generative Experience.

Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE) is an entirely new interface – and it's a window into the future for retailers. As Google sets the new standard for searchers everywhere, retailers like Amazon are taking note. Which brands will follow Google's lead and revolutionise the UI in retail search?

For retailers, now is the time to shift mindsets internally and prepare a new UI. In doing so, they can combine the benefits of their existing search and chat experiences. This new UI and UX will transcend the traditional chat box model and site search functionality to create something completely new.

Build Integrated, Effective Communication Experiences

Integrating search and chat experiences improves communication between brands and shoppers. Customers who ask questions will get answers. And not only will these customers receive answers, they'll receive personalised responses in real-time. Brands that lead the charge with this new UX will streamline communication and improve customer satisfaction.

We're talking about more than just a new search bar or a mere chatbot. Much like Google, retailers have innovative technology at their fingertips. This tool stands to empower both customers and retailers alike.

That said, there's good news and there's bad news. The bad news is that this transformative UI doesn't exist yet. No retailer has successfully bridged the gap between online and offline shopping experiences – not even Amazon (although they're trying – Amazon recently invested US$100 million in generative AI). But there's good news, too: retailers that successfully merge search, chat and generative AI can zoom past other commerce giants and take their place at the forefront of the conversational commerce revolution.

Conversational commerce is the future of retail. For the first time in a long time, retailers can actually innovate faster than Amazon. This is especially true as Amazon wrestles with their current legacy system, which will surely slow down innovation. This leaves space for other retail brands to embrace this new UX and come out ahead of the curve… and other e-commerce giants.

In short, this new UX is your opportunity to rekindle personalised assistance experiences reminiscent of in-store shopping – all while making online shopping more convenient than ever before.

It’s not chat. It’s not search. It’s something new.

This isn't a shift in search. It's not a shift in chatbot technology, either. This transformative solution is something new entirely.

The customer journey is streamlined – and ultimately, transformed – with an integrated interface that combines chat, search and conversational AI. This interface seamlessly blends the benefits of both search and chat functionalities, so it's easier for customers to have the experience they want (and ultimately, it's easier for customers to convert).

The UI makes it easy to quickly find products, a useful feature for the shopper who knows what they're searching for. It also answers more complex questions, like 'How do I return an item without a receipt?' without redirecting the user to another web page (a use case highlighted by help search and FAQ). And finally, it mimics human conversations like shoppers are used to having in-store – finally delivering on the experience if-then based chat promised years ago.

And it's not only online customers that benefit. In-store shoppers can turn to the same AI tool in a variety of instances. For example, a customer on the sales floor can turn to this UI when they have a question but can't find an associate. Or, a customer in the fitting room can use this tool when they want to order the outfit in a different size from a neighbouring store.

Investing in this new UI has positive effects on retailers, too. They'll have the opportunity to simultaneously redefine their online presence and significantly improve customer satisfaction. All the while, the journey becomes smoother because web teams only need to manage one interactive experience, instead of three. And because the customer experience has improved, it's entirely likely that retailers will see improvements in their online conversion rates – bridging the wide gap between the 3% online and the 40% in-store conversion rates we mentioned earlier.

What Retailers Need to Prepare for the Future of Commerce

Once committed to a conversational commerce experience, you'll need structured data. This data includes:

  • Product and inventory information, including product manuals, use and care instructions

  • Business information, like contact information and hours of operation

  • Location information, like physical addresses, store phone numbers and inventory at that specific location

  • Any other information that your customers search for, like FAQ, videos, reviews and more

There is technology to help manage all of this information. A content graph (sometimes also referred to as a knowledge graph) can be built into your content management system. With structured, organised data, you can use AI as a tool to power a variety of online experiences.

Because this is a new horizon for retailers, you may need to internally shift your organisation's perspective on search and chat, too. It's not enough to rely on traditional site search and chatbots – these solutions are due to be modernised with conversational AI. Combining search, chat and AI into a brand new, innovative tool improves the customer journey – and improves conversion rates for retailers, too.

Once all of your data is standardised and well-managed (and your team understands this UI's potential impact on your online conversion rates), you can evaluate tools to help. Look for solutions that can consolidate data management, search, chat and AI functionality into one platform. This will help you innovate without running into technical inefficiencies (like legacy systems are prone to), or over-indexing on SaaS solutions.

The conversational commerce revolution stands to transform commerce as we know it, but we're still very early in the game. Who knows – you could be the first retailer to capitalise on what might just be the most powerful retail transformation yet.

Build 1:1 Connections with Your Consumers

Connect with your shoppers at every step of their journey. Yext offers conversational commerce solutions so you can improve customer satisfaction – and your conversion rate.

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