Virtual Sales Associates Eating Chatbots' Lunch

Shopping online is often a solitary experience — just a consumer, a device and an eCommerce platform. While many people enjoy this, with an estimated 92% having made an online purchase in the last 12 months, it can potentially cause issues if a customer has a question and their only resource is a chatbot.

The chatbot isn't without purpose — Arthur Veytsman, co-founder and CEO of video commerce platform Immerss, told PYMNTS that chatbots can be useful in replacing phone calls about whether an item is available, basic sizing questions and order status, "but that's a call center-type of employee whose job is measured on how many calls they take, how efficiently they answer those calls. They're not there to create a relationship."

What's missing from eCommerce, Veytsman said, is a live sales associate who can talk more about how products look, feel and fit, upsell customers and help people shop. Streaming commerce shows held by influencers and brand ambassadors can help to some degree, but Veytsman said a one-on-one consultation can cater better to situations "when relationships are important."

"That's when a brand really cares about that experience and they want to elevate the experience from a basic eCommerce experience, where you know what you want and you made a purchase, versus truly a shopping experience," he said.

Immerss offers retailers both a streaming commerce product and a one-on-one virtual shopping feature. Veytsman said video chatting with a store associate has picked up steam in recent months as people have grown more used to being on camera and shopping from their home.

"You actually do feel like you're in a store, besides the touch and feeling of everything," Veytsman said. "Everything else is there and, more importantly, the fact that you're actually talking to a sales associate, not to a call center employee, that makes a huge difference."

Veytsman said part of Immerss' success so far comes from "being at the right time, the right place." After years of building the platform, Immerss signed its first client, Texas-based boot retailer Lucchese, in January 2020, just two months before COVID-19 upended the world.

"I think people who are discovering live commerce are being surprisingly shocked at how good it is," he said, adding that virtual shopping consultations will likely become essential for certain retailers as eCommerce continues to grow.

"If you're a store that doesn't offer that, then the customer is going to move on to your competitor who's better at servicing the client," Veytsman said. "So it's not just about the product, it's not just about the price. It's very much a lot about experience."

The Changing Store Associate

The ability to virtually interface with customers is also quickly changing the role of the store associate, Veytsman said. Rather than waiting for walk-in traffic and being forced to straighten shelves and put away products, employees are actually able to directly reach out to people shopping online, improving conversion rates and allowing employees to earn more if they work on commission.

"The whole world of online shopping or shopping from home and speaking with a physical retail environment is really converging quite a bit," Veytsman said.

Last month, PYMNTS reported that some store associates are also being asked to engage in social commerce, creating short videos with product recommendations for retailers' websites. Adam Levene, founder of HERO, said in an interview that this turns stores into studios and store associates into content creators, which "is a really exciting space."

"That's how today's consumer wants to shop," Levene said. "So bringing video to eCommerce and bringing videos to the actual online stores really helps the merchants level up their online store."

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