Conversational Commerce: What This Buzzword Means for Business


March 2, 2016

Conversational Commerce: What This Buzzword Means for Business

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Think about the last time you did business with someone. There was mostly likely an exchange of information (name, address, etc.) or an exchange of goods (your credit card number in exchange for the latest Adele album).

More likely than not, this exchange took place via a form, where you filled out fields in a very straightforward manner (name, email, phone, etc.). But what if this interaction could be more natural, more conversational?

It turns out it can, and it’s called “conversational commerce.”

What is Conversational Commerce?

You’re probably asking yourself, what exactly is conversational commerce? Uber’s director of experience Chris Messina, who coined the term, explains it as:

Utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.

Conversational commerce is essentially taking any conversation you have with a company via any medium and moving from discussion into action. Instead of talking about how you want to set up a ride on Uber via messaging, you actually are able to do it from right there in the interface.

Benefits of Conversational Commerce

There are several inherent benefits of conversational commerce, including that fact that:

  • It’s more natural. Conversational commerce uses natural language processing to manage and respond to customer inquiries. Alternatively, you can speak with a live person a la Magic’s text service and let customers speak as they normally would.
  • It’s a familiar interface. Messaging and communication in general has been around for thousands of years, whether we’re looking at hieroglyphs or a note passed between friends. Everyone knows how to use messaging platforms, so there’s nothing to relearn. This, in turn, makes for a better user experience.
  • It’s digital. Most conversational commerce takes place across digital channels (texting, messaging apps, web chat), mean there’s an easily accessible and editable transcript of the conversation. This lets you go through and learn from conversations effortlessly.
  • It’s right there in the interface. Instead of having to switch to a web page to complete a payment, conversational commerce let you transact right inside the messaging interface. This makes for a smoother, more effortless user and customer experience.
  • It accommodates several different approaches. As Chris Messina mentioned above, there are several different ways to accommodate conversational commerce: texting, mobile apps, web chat, voice, etc. You can also have artificial intelligence-powered interactions like with IBM Watson, or live agent interactions like Magic.

Conversational Commerce Champions

Have any companies actually succeeded using conversational commerce? You bet. There are two that come to mind, namely Slack and Magic. Both companies have become wildly successful in the past year or so, despite their different approaches to conversational commerce.


Slack, the increasingly popular team collaboration platform, uses messaging to coordinate with team members. It also has an automated bot called Slackbot to guide you through the sign up process, and that periodically appears as you interact with the platform.

conversational commerce

Although their primary use case is team communication and the only transactions you can have out-of-the-box are communication, Slack accounts for that with its library of service integrations. Integrations with companies like Stripe not only allow you to share information but make actual business transactions.

And Slack has been absolutely dominating conversational commerce. The company has garnered nearly $340 million in funding, is valued at $2.8 billion, and has over one million active daily users. Their blend of bots, real-time communication and business collaboration is exactly what customers didn’t know they needed.


Just like Slack, Magic burst onto the scene last year with its revolutionary yet simple idea to let people text in to order anything from flowers to pizza to tigers. When you text in, agents at the other end respond to your text message and set you up with the best deal for what you’re looking for.

Unlike Slack, Magic deals more with business transactions, letting people purchase whatever they want (within reason) over SMS. It’s also manned by live people, while Slackbot is fully automated to help guide you through how to use the platform.

Magic hasn’t quite reached Slack’s level of success, but they have received $120K in VC funding. Customers want to order things like Magic, and with the service, that’s exactly what they get.

But what do these two platforms have in common? One is managed by humans and one is managed by automation, and one is focused on collaboration while the other is focused on transactions.

The key connection? Messaging.

Conversational Commerce and Messaging

No matter what vertical you’re in, you need to acknowledge customer preference for messaging and mobile. For instance:

More and more customers want to interact with your business over messaging, regardless of channel. Research from Zendesk has found that 87% of customers expect a seamless experience across communication channels. And that’s no surprise—one of customers’ top frustrations is having to contact a company multiple times for the same reason.

Conversational Commerce and Your Business

Through conversational commerce, your company is able to manage business interactions without having a third party vendor decide whether or not customers should get a product from your company.

So how can you go about incorporating conversational commerce into your business? Here’s three steps to take:

  • First, do research on the channels your customers use the most. Our research has shown that over 60% of customers would prefer to text you for customer service.
  • Next, find a provider that will support your messaging needs. Are you going to have a lot of messaging? Do you need messaging to integrate with other channels? Are you going to channel pivot?
  • Once you’ve gotten that figured out, it’s time to start using the solution. Doing a pilot or a trial can be beneficial (you get to test out the solution and its capabilities without fully committing) but it’s ultimately about what works for you.


Conversational commerce is only set to grow in the coming years as more businesses realize the power of communication—messaging in particular—for business transactions. Businesses that leverage conversational commerce through emerging digital channels will be able to differentiate themselves from the competition.

To learn more about messaging to your business, download our whitepaper here.

Image of woman texting courtesy of Pixabay. CC0 License.

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