The next frontier of ecommerce is already here—regardless if consumers and brands are ready or not.

It certainly caught one family in Texas off guard a few years ago. What started out as a conversation between a six-year-old girl and the family’s Amazon Echo Dot turned into an order for a dollhouse and four pounds of sugar cookies.

Known as conversational commerce, this buying experience offers customers even greater convenience and enables brands to engage shoppers in more personalized ways. In this article, we’ll dig into what conversational commerce is and what it isn’t, how brands should approach their commerce strategies and why they need to involve their social teams from the get go.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce sits at the intersection of messaging apps and shopping, giving consumers an opportunity to buy from brands through chat apps and even voice technology. According to Chris Messina, who coined the term in 2015, conversational commerce is about “delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.” It’s what enables a customer to chat with customer service agents or a bot, ask questions, read reviews and make a purchase all within an app like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

Imagine, for example, you reach out to a brand on Facebook Messenger because you’re looking for a particular shoe. Not only does the customer service representative you’re talking to find the product for you, they’re also able to complete your transaction in the chat. Conversational commerce can even be used to confirm your attendance at a brand event over text message instead of navigating to a separate signup page.

While conversational commerce often takes place on social media messaging apps, it’s not quite the same as social commerce. The former refers to purchases made directly from a one-to-one chat app while the latter is specific to the buying and selling of goods or services within a social media platform.

A better way to understand the difference between the two types of commerce strategies is to breakdown which platforms are used in each scenario:

  • Conversational Commerce: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Instagram DMs
  • Social Commerce: Facebook Shops, Instagram Shopping, Pinterest for Shopify


A better way to nurture the buyer journey

One reason for brands’ shift toward conversational commerce stems from the growing popularity of mobile messaging.

Consider that messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat are the third most commonly used social media following social networks and media sharing platforms. And two billion users access WhatsApp on a monthly basis, making it the most popular messaging app worldwide. Not only does a platform like WhatsApp give brands access to a huge consumer base, it also empowers brands to meet their customers where they spend a significant portion of their online time.

Conversational commerce enables brands to build trust with their customers and offer personalized recommendations. For shoppers, it’s like talking to a store associate in-person and asking for their opinion on a product or service—except virtually. And brand representatives can offer more specific recommendations based on their conversation with that customer.

Toy manufacturer Lego, for example, created a chatbot named Ralph on Facebook Messenger to help shoppers find the perfect Lego gift during the holiday season. Ralph would ask customers a series of questions like age, budget and the types of sets they were interested in before ultimately driving a shopper to the point of purchase.

Above all, chat platforms simplify the buyer journey by centralizing the shopping experience within one platform. Conversational commerce makes it possible for shoppers to ask questions, read reviews, explore product catalogues and hit the checkout button without ever having to navigate elsewhere. For brands, the ability to move consumers through the awareness, consideration and decision stage of their journey in one application can reduce cart abandonment and lead to more sales.

Social teams sit at the heart of a brand’s conversational commerce strategy

It’s clear that messaging apps are here to stay and brands would be wise to start developing their conversational commerce strategy today. And with the majority of these interactions occurring on social media chat apps, it’s crucial that brands include their social teams when building out their next steps because:

They know your audience inside and out

Few teams will ever really “get” your customers like the social team. After all, your social team interacts with consumers daily and are privy to all kinds of messages spanning from compliments to complaints to constructive feedback. Social marketers not only know how to engage your audience; they also know what is top of mind for customers when it comes to your brand’s products and services.

For example: the social team at Lodge Cast Iron frequently receives customer questions and feedback about their cookware. Knowing which items are most popular or most requested could help ecommerce teams surface similar products when conversing with customers.

They have a clear grasp on your brand voice

Conversational commerce demands that brands, by default, have a clear and distinctive brand voice across all platforms. Consistency is key when developing a brand’s voice. Regardless if someone is reaching out to vent or ask a question, consumers expect a consistent experience when engaging with a brand—and your social team already delivers this daily.

Failure to maintain that brand voice can create a disjointed buyer journey and even turn away potential customers. Working with your social team ensures your brand’s voice and tone stay consistent, whether you’re answering a simple question or trying to close a sale.

They (likely) know a customer’s history with your brand

Depending on which tools your social team uses, there’s a good chance they have a holistic view of your brand’s entire relationship with the customer in your inbox. With a tool like Sprout Social, for example, social teams can see a customer’s entire history with a brand thanks to integrations with tools like Shopify, HubSpot and Zendesk.

Example of a Shopify profile connected within the Sprout Social platform.

Knowing a customer’s conversation and order history with a brand can help build trust with a buyer, and the insights from those conversations can be used to sway buyers who are still on the fence. Suppose someone who frequently mentions a brand in their social posts is finally ready to make their first purchase. Using a tool like Sprout, social teams can pass this insight along to the ecommerce team, who can provide a discount code or special offer to help seal the deal.

The future of ecommerce is conversational

As chat and messenger platforms increasingly solidify their places in consumers’ lifestyles, now is the time for brands to explore conversational commerce. Consumers already reach out to brands on social media with customer service questions, issues and feedback. And thanks to conversational commerce, brands can turn a DM or an instant message into a sales opportunity. By centralizing the entire customer journey within a conversation, brands simplify the path to purchase and empower shoppers with all the information they need without ever leaving the chat window.

An effective conversational commerce strategy, however, starts with a robust social messaging strategy. Check out this guide for tips on how to integrate social messaging best practices into your customer experience strategy today.