Guest Column: Conversational Commerce - will 2017 finally be the "Year of the Chatbot"? – Ishan Chatterjee, VML

As chatbots and Conversational Commerce continues to develop, I’m certain we’ll see newer and more innovative ways of brand – consumer communication and interaction emerge, writes Ishan Chatterjee, Client Solutions Director, VML SEA & India

e4m by Ishan Chatterjee
Updated: Dec 2, 2016 9:28 AM
Guest Column: Conversational Commerce - will 2017 finally be the "Year of the Chatbot"? – Ishan Chatterjee, VML

“Conversational Commerce” was a term first introduced to mass consciousness by Chris Messina in 2015, when he noticed a new trend in the communications and messaging space – Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp, real-time translations in Google, Fetch’s texting shopping assistants, or Uber’s planned integration into Facebook Messenger.

He defined the term 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.” The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal.

Conversational Commerce fuses technologies consumers are accustomed to using – chat, messaging, and other natural language interfaces – with artificial intelligence, so that people can interact with brands and services and be offered solutions, without the intervention of human agents.

While social media remains a fantastic avenue to connect and engage with consumers, there is a quantum shift in the way consumers are using these platforms. The number of users on chat and messenger platforms crossed 2.9 billion in 2015, compared to 2.4 billion social media platform users – suggesting an avenue for the point of sale for commerce to shift to chat and messaging platforms.

How are some brands already getting on this new wave?


Uber is leading the way, when they announced plans to integrate with Facebook Messenger. Apart from just booking rides through Messenger, users can chat with drivers, and pay for their rides through the platform directly. To drive usage, Uber invested in giving away $20 credits for those who try this service out.


In less than 4 years, WeChat exploded into a major global social media platform, reaching over 700 million monthly active users. One of the major draws of WeChat in China has been going in the opposite direction of global platform / app players – instead of “un-bundling” their offerings into several use-case applications, WeChat crams a host of myriad features into their app, including:

·         Hailing a taxi

·         Order food

·         Buy movie tickets

·         Get your hands on the latest Nikes

·         Track your fitness goals

·         Pay your utilities bills

WeChat’s Payment Page

Over 10 million businesses in China have WeChat accounts, and it is becoming increasingly popular for small businesses to only have a WeChat account, forgoing developing their own website or mobile app completely. US technology firms, in particular Facebook, are taking note.

Amazon Echo – Alexa

Amazon’s Echo has been a surprise hit, befuddling pundits and industry watchers alike as it raced to over 3 million units sold in less than 18 months. While the most commonly known uses of the device include playing music, getting answers to questions, and controlling your smart home devices, Alexa can also connect to Amazon’s product catalog and your oder history, and carry out commands to buy items, as well as recommend products and purchases.


Slack has created an internal “help bot” @slackbot, that you can interact with using text based commands within the productivity app. In addition to being a natural language help function, by developing an external API that allows 3rd party app developers to build bots for Slack, people can now connect Uber, Skype, Trello, Concur and a variety of other applications to Slack, listed on the Slack App Directory.

One of the most talked about integrations was Taco Bell’s announcement that they are working on a Slackbot that allows you to order your favorite items from right within Slack. Consumer demands remains to be seen, but it does demonstrate the potential for brands to leverage the platform and its audience.


Magic, launched in early 2015, was a first of its kind intelligent virtual assistant service, that rather than go into developing and maintaining a mobile application, decided to use good old fashioned SMS. Magic promises to be able to handle virtually any task you send it?—?almost like a human executive assistant.

Based on reviews online, Magic seems to have been able to carry out a wide variety of odd tasks – ranging from setting up flight reservations, to ordering last minute roses for your girlfriend. 

Apple – Siri

With iOS10, Mac OS Sierra and 2015’s refresh of AppleTV, Apple is integrating its voice assistant platform Siri into more and more devices and platforms. While the functionality still remains limited to being little more than voice activated commands, by opening up the ecosystem to partners such as Spotify, Uber and Whatsapp, Apple also clearly sees an upside to developing this ecosystem further.

As chatbots and Conversational Commerce continues to develop, I’m certain we’ll see newer and more innovative ways of brand – consumer communication and interaction emerge. Will the trend of Conversational Commerce pass like a ship in the night, much in the way of the much vaunted Path and Foursquare, or does it have the potential to become the next big thing to shift consumer behavior?

I can’t wait to find out.

(The author is Client Solutions Director, VML SEA & India)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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