New Delhi: Within 96 hours of India going into a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 in late March, supermarket operator Spencer’s Retail introduced a WhatsApp-based, artificial intelligence-enabled chat service for customers to place orders and book delivery timing slots.
“It eased the load on our e-commerce app and added another channel for the out-of-store’ business model,” said chief executive Devendra Chawla.
Ethnic-wear retailer Meena Bazaar over the months’ introduced WhatsApp chatbots to send alerts to customers on the movement of their online delivery orders. As millions of Indians shifted to online purchasing during the pandemic and they generally shunned stores and crowded bazaars, dozens of retailers in India enhanced technologies and ramped up their omni-channel offerings. Many of them also introduced such chatbots, which were otherwise alien to most of them.
Chatbots are AI-enabled technology where bots, which are software applications programmed to perform certain tasks, initiate and answer questions, make sales pitches, and even solve some basic customer issues through messaging applications, websites, and on apps. These services have come in handy for retailers. during the pandemic.
Retailers are currently using chatbots to engage with customers, like giving details of products they click online, answering basic questions, and also following up on the customers’ WhatsApp whether they are making up their minds to purchase, or sending links to similar products they might like.
This service is currently offered by a host of retailers, from traditional Chennai-based jeweler Saravana Stores and Leo Coffee chain to multinational sportswear giant Puma.
“It is catching on because your number one device for e-commerce in India is the mobile phone,” said Nitin Chhabra, CEO of e-commerce enabler company Ace Turtle. “And, with the rise of messaging platforms, it was only natural that both will interconnect.
” Puma and luggage brand Samsonite, which are among Chhabra’s clients, recently added chatbots to their apps. Ace Turtle plans to extend chatbots to the Facebook and Google Messenger platforms in the near future, he said. Yellow Messenger, a Bengaluru-based technology firm that helps companies with the AI-enabled chatbots, said it is offering such software to more than a hundred retail clients.
“Our tipping point came with the onset of Covid when a lot of these brands started using chatbots to prop up the entire shopping experience,” cofounder Raghu Ravinutala said. “There are about one billion messages exchanged through our platform per quarter at present which was less than 100 million messages per quarter before the pandemic.”
Most of the chatbots are running on WhatsApp that has about 400 million subscribers in India.
“WhatsApp is one of the first mobile applications for any first-time Internet user,” said Surender Selvaraj, Yellow Messenger’s head of conversational commerce product. “The way it is connecting with friends and relatives, we are also bringing a commerce flavour to this channel.”