As messaging apps become increasingly popular, we’re only going to see more and more brands use them to interact with consumers via integrated chatbots. Brands appear to see these platforms as a way to reach the younger generation of consumers who spend a great deal of time on these apps, using the chatbots to provide the sense of being given customer service that you can’t get from browsing a website alone.
One of the latest brands to debut a messaging app service is makeup retailer Sephora, who are now using a chatbot on Kik to interact with customers. Users of Kik (available on iOS and Android) can ask the chatbot for makeup tips, receive product recommendations, access reviews and, most importantly for Sephora, make purchases directly through the app.
It’s easy to get chatting with the Sephora-bot; just search for it on the Kik app, instigate a chat and immediately be welcomed by “Hi Emma! Welcome to Sephora!” “Get makeup tips and reviews by chatting with us!” The messages come in at quite a startling speed and they even have emojis.
The third message you receive in the initial deluge asks if you’d like to take part in a quiz so that the chatbot can get to know you and what you’re looking for. This is an interesting element and it really appeals to the side of me that will sit for hours on Buzzfeed ticking boxes to find out which colour of pants best suit my personality. Immediately, I’m in this conversation because ‘hey, a quiz!’ How personal. Good move, Sephora. It’s not a particularly in-depth quiz; it just wants to know your age, the makeup brands you usually buy, and which makeup item you absolutely can’t live without.
From this information the chatbot serves up relevant how-to videos and products for which you can see reviews. You never have to type anything in, either, unless you’re requesting a specific product; you simply select from a series of options the bot gives you to take the conversation further. By answering more questions you can access guides even more specific to you, such as how to best apply makeup to your particular face shape (if you know what that is, there are a surprising amount). When you find the product you want you can purchase it without ever having to leave the app.
The entire process is incredibly fast and smooth, helping you find what you’re looking for with minimal fuss and minimal human interaction. Kik has a userbase of 275 million people, many of whom are in the 18-24 age range that Sephora are seeking to target:
“Through our partnership with Kik, we saw an opportunity to engage with new and existing clients, particularly with the highly mobile/connected audience of Gen-Z and younger millennials, through a fun, new social platform. At Sephora, innovation and agility are core to our brand DNA.”
You can absolutely see why this is a sensible move for the retailer. Being at home as they are on messaging apps, younger users are much more inclined to trust their interaction with a chatbot and it suits anyone who likes to shop quickly without spending hours researching online.
It’s faster, it’s easier, and it’s almost certainly the future of the online shopping experience. But I don’t think the chatbot service feels as personal as it should in order to be as effective as it hopes. At the moment, Sephora’s chatbot definitely feels like a chatbot; there’s very little that’s natural or overly conversational about the language it uses which works on the level of efficiency but doesn’t inspire much trust in me as a consumer.
It’s most likely an old-fashioned bias from someone who has worked in and is used to in-store customer service but when interacting with the Sephora-bot I felt much less freedom to explore a wide range of products and ask questions as I would with a real person or shopping online un-aided and I’m in the 18-24 bracket Sephora are trying to target. Rather, I felt I was being hand-held and gently shoved towards a purchase which, though faster, doesn’t feel quite as satisfying or as genuine. I quite like to feel that the person helping me has a personality and the capacity to actually listen to me, it adds weight to their recommendations to me.
This is, however, just opinion and I have no doubt that these chatbots, who are essentially the perfect ever-present ever-helpful customer assistant, not only increase sales for brands like Sephora but also improve the online shopping experience for countless consumers. It is nice to feel directed and have someone to turn to when online shopping considering it’s so easy to find yourself drowning in products and reviews, even if the human element is missing. It’s likely we’ll see many more of our favourite retailers adopt this approach before long.