Marketers Embrace Mobile Chat to Expand the Commerce Experience

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Online chat has come a long way since the days of AOL Instant Messenger. Despite concerns over security and trust, a growing number of consumers are using mobile chat to interact with their favorite brands in organic, convenient ways. Live chat is also playing a role in what’s become the latest trend in retail marketing — casual commerce.

The term casual commerce refers to the lengthy journeys consumers now take when shopping for goods and services online. Whereas an in-person shopper at Nordstrom or Macy’s might pick up and purchase a handbag on an impulse, online shoppers are much more likely to thoroughly investigate their purchases, often over the course of multiple website visits. Impulse buying can, and does, happen on digital channels. It’s just a lot less common. As retailers look at how they can steer online shoppers toward the checkout page, they’re increasingly using live chat solutions to get the job done.

“Both brands and consumers are relying on chat commerce differently today than in previous years because of further innovation and adoption when it comes to chat channels,” says Jennifer Shambroom, chief marketing officer at Clickatell, a chat commerce company headquartered in Silicon Valley.

Clickatell is one of a number of platforms providing brands with ways to connect and facilitate transactions with customers via text and other messaging platforms, including WhatsApp.

Shambroom says chat commerce, blended with customer service, is a major part of brand strategy right now. Thanks to high demand for certain products and services, combined with pandemic and labor-related shortages, companies are dealing with an increased volume of customer service requests that can overwhelm their contact centers or customer service teams. Improving SMS messaging capabilities and integrating chatbots into their digital channels allows these retailers to engage shoppers as they make real-time purchases and online queries.

Online consumers spent $204.5 billion in November and December 2021. Moving into the second half of 2022, both digital commerce and brick-and-mortar continue to be a major way that Americans are shopping.

While consumers have always relied heavily on SMS and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Messaging, Google Business Messenger, and Viber, Shambroom says interest in shopping and checking out on mobile chat channels is still relatively new. As consumers grow even more accustomed to shopping and purchasing online, she expects that they’ll be even more likely to rely on chat as a form of communication and transaction.

On the brand side, Shambroom says innovations from social media companies, messaging platforms, and chat commerce solution providers like Clickatell have opened up the gates for enhanced chat commerce experiences, such as the ability to make purchases and accept payments. The ability to checkout via SMS and chat apps is an in-demand feature right now, as well, thanks in part to widespread adoption of peer-to-peer payment services and mobile wallets.

“We expect companies across every industry to continue to utilize mobile and chat channels more to expand the commerce experience,” Shambroom says. “Even for organizations in education or healthcare, people’s reliance on mobile phones is enough evidence of why the ability to communicate with consumers through SMS or messaging channels is crucial for business survival.” 

Although mobile penetration in the United States is over 80%, and growing, Shambroom says the majority of companies have yet to truly capitalize on chat and SMS messaging channels as a brand move. That will need to change in the coming years for brands across retail, travel, hospitality, food, healthcare, and education if they expect to keep pace with the competition. 

“To compete in today’s market, brands … need to be able to meet consumers where they are, on their phones — providing them with new offers, updates on orders, and the ability to shop and transact through chat and SMS channels,” she says. “There is a major opportunity for companies to use chat commerce as the connecting factor between how consumers experience and engage with brands from beginning to end.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.