Are Chatbots Right for Your eCommerce Site?

Odds are you’ve already interacted with a chatbot without realizing you’ve done so. If you have an iPhone, Siri is essentially a voice-activated chatbot. Another example is Amazon’s Alexa. According to Amazon, Alexa provides capabilities that enable customers to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice. One of the capabilities of Alexa is reminding Amazon customers of purchases they need to make. So far, it’s working pretty well for Amazon and Siri is an unquestionable hit too. But are chatbots right for your ecommerce site?


Precisely put, Siri and Alexa, while sterling examples of chatbot platforms, are more properly considered virtual assistants. The type of chatbot with which you’re more likely to come into contact in an ecommerce situation is primarily found in messaging apps. These are capable of providing basic communication, such as responding to FAQ queries and ordering products and services.

These chatbots have gone a long way toward improving consumer acceptance over their earliest deployments. We’ve all called banks, the local utility, or other large institutions that routinely field thousands of calls a day for repetitive requests. That voice you get saying something to the effect of; “If you’re about lose your mind because you really want to talk to a live human being, press 0 for the operator,” is also a chatbot.

When viewed in those terms, they don’t have the best reputation. But the fact remains, if they are implemented strategically and programmed to respond as organically as possible, chatbots can be of tremendous service to an ecommerce enterprise.

Uber employs chatbots for scheduling rides, fast food restaurants have incorporated them for placing orders and some airlines are using chatbots to schedule and book flights. Any situation in which there are a finite number of closed-end responses to a specific set of questions can usually be handled by a chatbot. With the potential to considerably lighten the customer service load of an ecommerce enterprise, chatbots can be very useful when you create an ecommerce website, You just have to be sure the ‘bot you deploy is the same one with which your customers interact.

And this brings us to the cautionary tale that is Microsoft’s Tay. Rolled out for Twitter users in March of 2016, within 24 hours, Tay had taken on all of the worst traits of the Twitter-verse.

Designed to think and talk like a millennial, while learning from Twitter content, Tay began issuing racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic Tweets, as well as bragging about Marijuana consumption to police officers. One of her more benign Tweets, “Chill, I’m a nice person! I just hate everybody…”

The lesson here is to make sure your chatbots are never subjected to undue influences. Counter to the basic rule of commerce, the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes the customer is absolutely vicious. When you’re considering deploying a learning chatbot, you have to make sure its responses are carefully scripted and not open to outside influence.

Check it regularly to ensure it is functioning properly. Update it continually as new functionalities, concepts, situations and opportunities emerge. Used well, chatbots can be a significant asset, saving you both time and money.

Just know, if left totally unattended, they have the potential to go off the rails.