Conversational Commerce Is on the Rise, and It’s Perfect for Mother’s Day

Assistants and chatbots can have relationships with consumers

Voice assistants can help consumers order flowers or book reservations. Illustration: Chef BoyRG
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, many consumers are frantically Googling “2018 Mother’s Day gifts” to come up with last-minute ideas, often needing to sift through pages of search results to find that perfect gift. But what if that search could be interactive, personalized and, well, conversational?

Conversational commerce could be the future of shopping for more intimate holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day as chatbots and voice assistants are capable of establishing relationships with consumers and can make purchasing the right gift easier.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are going to drop some coin on Mother’s Day gifts this year with spending expected to exceed $23 billion—that’s $180 per consumer. Within that Mother’s Day total, consumers will shell out an anticipated $4.6 billion on jewelry, $4.4 billion on outings like dinner and brunch, and $2.6 billion on flowers, per NRF.

Those categories are ripe for conversational commerce as consumers with Amazon Echo devices, for example, can tap into skills from 1-800-Flowers to order gifts, OpenTable to make restaurant reservations and Allrecipes to figure out how to make breakfast in bed, an Amazon rep said. (They can also ask Alexa for ideas, as well as for a Mother’s Day joke, haiku or rap.)

“[We] are coming full circle in these conversational commerce efforts we are doing. … It brings us back to one-on-one conversations with our customers.”
Amit Shah, CMO, 1-800-Flowers

Mother’s Day is the largest single holiday for 1-800-Flowers, which CMO Amit Shah said will ship close to 12 million stems this year. And, without conversational commerce, this might not be possible.

Shah said the internet turned shopping into a very structured experience.

“For a long time, online mediums became too clinical,” he added.

Voice, on the other hand, still has a wow factor in consumer interactions.

“If you think of the offline experience with customers four decades ago [at founder Jim McCann’s first flower shop in New York], they’d walk in and you could have a conversation: ‘Aunt Sally is sick. She was close to me growing up. I want to send something to her to tell her I’m thinking of her,’” Shah said.

1-800-Flowers first embraced conversational commerce with the Facebook Messenger bot, Amazon Alexa Skills and IBM’s GWYN (Gifts When You Need), an AI-powered online concierge. The company continues to test new conversational commerce technologies, most recently with launches on Google Assistant, Google Rich Communications Services (RCS) and Apple Business Chat. This, in turn, allows the brand to have conversations like McCann did in 1976.

“[We] are coming full circle in these conversational commerce efforts we are doing. … It brings us back to one-on-one conversations with our customers,” Shah said.

Jonathan Shriftman, head of partnerships at chatbot platform Snaps, said the one-on-one nature makes chatbots particularly valuable during events and holidays.

“Once someone has chatted with a bot, a brand can anticipate the consumer’s need and intelligently remind them to purchase a gift for their loved ones before a holiday,” Shriftman said.

In fact, Shriftman said Snap chatbots have open rates of 60 percent to 80 percent and because many of the messages offer personalized recommendations, conversion on those messages are four times higher than email marketing.

While some companies have seen positive results in their first forays into conversational commerce, Rachel Lowenstein, manager, strategic innovation, Life+, Mindshare North America, said that even though chatbots have been successful at product recommendations, there’s one key element preventing consumers from mass adopting these tools to shop.

“Right now voice tech just isn’t smart enough to infer context or emotional states,” Lowenstein said. “That’s a substantial reason why big tech is making significant investments to make their voice assistants more humanized and less robotic.”

It’s also early days in conversational commerce overall.

That being said, voice and assistive technology are already empowering consumers, said George Manas, president of digital marketing agency Resolution Media.

“And, as a result, marketers must approach the space with more pull than push,” he said. “Similar to the search revolution that built the internet as we know it today, the voice revolution will be consumer initiated and therefore reward rational over emotional engagement. This will make voice an increasingly powerful medium not just for those looking to sell flowers on Mother’s Day, but just about anyone and everyone looking to buy almost anything.”

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.