Chatbots for Retail: What Are They and How Retailers Can Use Them to Spark Sales

Chatbots for retail | Shopify Retail blog

Technology moves so quickly that it’s difficult for businesses to stay on top of tech that could firm up their bottom line. And because there seems to be new technology developed every day, it can be tough to decide what your retail business should embrace and what might just be a fad.

Implementing new tech also requires money and resources, so you need to be sure that it’s worth the investment. And this is the situation retailers may find themselves in when thinking about chatbots. With all the chatter in the industry about conversational commerce, some merchants are wondering if they should invest in these automated bots to take customer queries, provide customer service, and potentially upsell to shoppers.

Yes, there’s a lot of talk recently about chatbots. So, let’s dig deeper into what chatbots are, how they tick, and if they’re right for your business.

What are Chatbots?

In short, chatbots are specially programmed robots that interact with customers and simulate human conversation through artificial intelligence (AI). Chatbots Magazine describes them as: “A chance to get in contact with your clients is a significant way for your business to grow. Chatbots help to handle interactions with customers for e-commerce companies and simulate the shopping that buyers get in a retail store.”

Instead of having your customers fill out forms to get help, or select from a drop-down menu when choosing merchandise, chatbots can assist customers and give them the sense that they’re interacting with a helpful retail associate.

Chatbots for retail, Subway and FreshDirect | Shopify Retail blogImage Credit: MasterCard

Realistically, these bots pair a level of intimacy with automation, allowing merchants to deliver controlled, high-quality customer service.

Many messaging bots can already be found in proprietary retail apps (like Subway or FreshDirect) and when you message branded Facebook Business Pages. Facebook recently confirmed that customers have already created 33,000 chatbots for its Messenger app thus far.

Chatbot Benefits

Consistent Customer Service

Chatbots are a great way to build your brand when they’re tailored to provide the same kind of customer service that shoppers expect from your brand either in-store or online. And bots allow brands to provide cohesive, consistent customer service because the chatbot responses are controlled.

Lower Costs

As well as acting as functioning as an invaluable marketing tool, Chatbot Magazine states that: “People prefer to receive information about the brands while they’re shopping, and chatbot seems as product or service description and FAQ. A chatbot is an interactive and engaging way to cut down the shopping time and a possibility to free up you from searching customer support manager. It allows you to enhance your ROI, keeping your costs low.”

Rapid Responses

Keeping your customers on your site by answering their questions immediately lowers the chance that those users will leave your site for a competitor, to seek out an answer to their query, or sleep on their decision — therefore increasing the speed and amount of sales on site.

Chatbot Examples

If you’re looking for inspiration, there are already plenty of companies using chatbots to better serve their customers. Your retail business can build your own custom chatbot, or use one of companies offering bot technologies to help brands connect with their customers.


Chatbots for retail, Slackbot | Shopify Retail blogFull of personality and wit, Slack created one of the most well-known chatbots — Slackbot. Chatbots Magazine explains that from there “the company has expanded on this concept and launched an external API enabling developers to build their bots for Slack, accessible via Slack’s app directory.”

Companies like Taco Bell are working with this development to allow users to place orders from within Slack.

Facebook Messenger

Chatbots for retail, Facebook Messenger | Shopify Retail blogFacebook Messenger also launched a bot API to make it easier for customers to make purchases from their favorite brands.

“The company first integrated peer-to-peer payments into Messenger in 2015, and then launched a full chatbot API so businesses can create interactions for customers to occur within the Facebook Messenger app. You can order flowers from 1-800-Flowers, browse the latest fashion and make purchases from Spring, and order an Uber, all from within a Messenger chat.”


One of the ultimate bot personalities is Alexa on the Amazon Echo. The Amazon Echo uses the chatbot technology and voice recognition to create a seamless user experience anywhere in the user’s home.The flexibility of this chatbot makes it possible for shoppers to use Alexa right from their homes to complete many otherwise-mundane daily tasks.

“While the most common use of the device include playing music, making informational queries, and controlling home devices, Alexa (the device’s default addressable name) can also tap into Amazon’s full product catalog as well as your order history and intelligently carry out commands to buy stuff. You can re-order commonly ordered items, or even have Alexa walk you through some options in purchasing something you’ve never ordered before.”


Chatbots for retail, Kit | Shopify Retail blogKit, a virtual employee, is a bot that assists merchants with many aspects of their day-to-day marketing tasks.

Instead of an app for every task, Kit can interact with different apps on your behalf. All you need to do is say the word and approve the action to do anything from:

  • Create Facebook and Instagram ads with accurate audience targeting.
  • Post new products or sales to your Facebook page.
  • Send personalized 'Thank You' emails to customers.
  • Create business reports for a quick look at your sales stats.
  • Turn a 5-Star customer review into an ad.
  • And other things that would take some time out of your day to execute.

In this context, chatbots like Kit can give business owners back their time — time they can then spend focusing on other things. And now Shopify merchants can use Kit for free.

Implementing a Chatbot

Be Realistic

So, how should you use chatbot technology for your retail business? While chatbot technology is rapidly evolving to make many things easier for merchants, retailers must be realistic about their limitations.

In the Forbes article “Why Chatbots Are Dangerous Territory For Retailers,” Nikki Baird recommends being honest with your customers when you’re using bot technology: “If a retailer passes off a chatbot as a real person, and the consumer figures out that it’s not, it could easily lead to either the chatbot equivalent of rage clicking, or where consumers deliberately mess with the chatbot in order to get responses that could potentially be embarrassing to the brand.”

If you are offering bots on your site or in your app, also ensure that customers can get in touch with a real person if they request it. Artificial intelligence goes a long way for simple interactions, but customers need to be able to escalate more complex discussions to well-trained employees.

Baird reminds readers that if a customer has already requested to speak with a real person, “this means the last thing you want to do is then dump them into a conversation with an employee who is only trained and enabled to handle basic information.”

For these reasons, it’s probably best to use chatbots to help customers find products, answer simple questions, or direct them to somewhere on the site, but not for more complex issues. To prevent frustration, it’s best to use real employees to deal any unplanned customers interactions, including returns, complaints, and questions about a product or service they’ve already purchased.

Do a Soft Launch

When it comes to using chatbots for your retail business, a little experimentation might be the best way to go.

To roll out chatbots on your site, we’d suggest starting with bots for all unsolicited interactions with customers and continue to use real employees for all solicited conversations. From that point, you can determine if bot would be beneficial for any additional uses for your business.

Where to Access Chatbots for Your Business

While some brands are opting to create their own bots to implement in their apps or on their sites, there’s no need to go to the hassle or expense of building your own. There are a number of ways brands can access ready-made bots or easily create one, like:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Slack
  • Kik
  • Kit CRM
  • Out-of-the-box customer support chatbots like
  • Bot-building companies like Avaamo

Moving Forward With Chatbots

Has your retail business successfully used chatbots to garner sales? Tell us about it in the comments section.