I regularly fly with KLM from Minneapolis to New Delhi, and always stop over in Amsterdam. I am frequently in Minneapolis for research and this is my route to go home to take a break from work. I have done the journey so many times that I know almost all the shops at Schiphol inside out. However, one time in summer 2019, the predictability was broken when I missed my connecting flight to New Delhi.
I was tired, hungry, sleepy, and the customer-service counter was closed. I had the choice to make the long walk to customer services at the next gate or use my iPhone, so I tried my phone.
I texted the KLM WhatsApp number and went back and forth with an assistant on my choices. Within minutes I was on the next flight, with the boarding pass on my phone. It was only later that I discovered that I had been dealing with next-generation artificial intelligence – in an example of the new field of conversational commerce.
If you haven’t encountered it yet, you will soon. Certain supermarkets are providing voice-enabled shopping services to customers, for example. In the US, Walmart shoppers can ask Google Assistant to add certain things to their virtual shopping trolleys and to learn from their shopping habits.
Google has similar deals with two other supermarket giants – Target in the US and Carrefour in France – while Amazon provides voice-enabled shopping in the UK to online customers of Ocado. Not to be outdone, Walmart recently bought conversation-commerce specialist Botmock to expand its services in this area.
There are already more than a billion people interacting with businesses via either text or voice-based conversational tools. In 2021, conversational commerce is expected to account for total sales of US$41 billion (£30 billion) worldwide and is forecast to grow five-fold to nearly US$300 billion by 2025 – half of it from chatbots. So how is this market developing, and what does it mean for our shopping habits?