More than three-quarters of Americans now use smartphones, more than two billion messages are exchanged between people and businesses each month through Facebook Messenger, and usage of voice-enabled speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, is poised to grow another 130% this year alone. Rapid changes in the way people communicate aren’t just impacting personal relationships, they’re also hitting the retail market as consumer preferences evolve. In a new report released just this morning, the post-purchase solutions provider Narvar uncovers generational differences in how consumers prefer interacting with retailers, as well as a growing interest in using bots and voice technologies to communicate with brands.
While email is still top dog in Narvar’s survey, with 80% of consumers selecting email as their preferred communication channel, 38% now say they want to hear from retailers on multiple channels, with post-purchase communications being among the most-likely to be appreciated via text or push notification.
“It’s important that retailers understand customers’ communications preferences so they can invest in the right channels, personalize outreach, and ultimately, create effortless yet emotional customer experiences,” says Harsh Jawharkar, vice president, head of marketing and partnerships at Narvar. “Each product release, sale, order confirmation, shipping update, return, customer question or issue resolution is a new opportunity for retailers to build relationships and nurture loyalty.”
Digging into the data by age group, Narvar found that millennials are more likely to prefer text and push notifications than baby boomers, with 43% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 29 preferring to receive order updates as text messages, versus 28% of consumers ages 60 and older.
Artificial intelligence is rising in prominence, as well. In Narvar’s survey, 79% of shoppers said they have used text, messenger apps, or voice devices, and 74% have used live chat features while shopping online, but 38% could not identify whether they were using artificial intelligence and only 10% said they knew they were not communicating with a real human.
“While AI-powered chatbots and voice devices are still considered emerging technologies — Amazon Alexa was released less than three years ago — the adoption rate among shoppers is accelerated … When it comes to voice, only 12% of shoppers currently own a voice device. But adoption amongst owners is high: 70% of voice device owners use or plan to use voice devices to shop,” Jawharkar says. “That tells us consumers are starting to use artificial intelligence to shop.”
Jawharkar predicts that the use of AI among retailers and brands will continue to rise as the technology itself becomes more mainstream. He’s also eager to see how chatbot usage patterns will change as the technology improves.
While just 2% of consumers in Narvar’s survey said they wanted to receive messages from retailers via chatbots or through messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, those that had tried it generally enjoyed the experience. Sixty-five percent of shoppers who had interacted with a bot said they liked it, versus 35% who said they did not. Among those who liked interacting with bots, the reasons ranged from not needing to wait on hold and the ability to multitask while chatting, to bots being better for people who have social anxiety.
“We’re in the early days of chatbots, but results are promising. Right now, they can answer simple questions and resolve basic problems. As artificial intelligence technology improves, bots will become more useful and will be better equipped to tackle complex issues. But that doesn’t mean skilled customer service teams or retail associates will go extinct,” Jawharkar says. “In the future, retailers will need to adopt a hybrid model that applies technology to self-service models, but escalates higher-level issues or complex cases to humans.”
Looking forward, Jawharkar sees the rapid adoption of mobile technologies and AI as important keys in the evolving retail landscape. As the technology behind chatbots and voice devices improves, he predicts that consumers will increasingly expect retailers to communicate with greater speed, efficiency, and personalization.
“While these channels are still new, our data reveals the majority of shoppers have at least tried messenger apps, voice devices or live chats,” he says. “Retailers need to understand nuances in consumer communication patterns and start investing in new technologies to stay ahead of the curve.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.