Are chatbots useful? A narrative of adventures in the seas of eCommerce

Are chatbots useful? A narrative of adventures in the seas of eCommerce

When last we heard from our intrepid traveler Ted, he was wandering the brave new world of chatbots in search of a pair of pants. Ted's first adventure took him to a few different platforms and bots, and while he ALMOST succeeded in buying pants using only chatbots, he ultimately came home empty handed. Not to be deterred, Ted has once again ventured forth from the realm of humans to see if the chatbots are any more helpful...

Can chatbots help shoppers buy a pair of jeans? One reporter attempts to find out.After months spent nestled in my estate’s quiet comforts, happily enjoying the simple pleasures of my Amazon Prime account while sheltered from tech bloggers’ fitful enthusiasms and whimsical affectations, I opened my closet.

There, I was confronted by a most unfortunate surprise.

In my jeans’ buttocks, a hole had appeared!

Reeling with shock, I retreated to the library. As my pulse slowed, a realization dawned. The slow pleasures of my iPhone 4s and archaic printed novels had lulled me into a dull and uneventful stupor. Although horrific, the sensations of discovering my pants’ disrepair had jolted me back to life.

I thirsted for adventure. And I needed pants.

Once more, I set out for the land of chatbots.

Revisting retail chatbots, or "My Return to the Spring Bot"

Last I had explored this chatbot rugged territory, I found Spring Bot to be a most welcoming host. My journey’s first stop was at her door.

At first, I believed our reunion was a joyous one. She remembered every word of our last conversation, from my hopeful questions to her sure answers. Yet, when I attempted to renew our dialogue, I found her mute.

The Spring chatbot helping retail customers.Had I offended my friend? Had a tragedy befallen her, turning her against the pleasures of human company and unmoved by the return of her old acquaintance? I attempted to engage her, hoping not all was lost.

The Spring chatbot attempting to help a customer.

Despite my entreaties, she remained silent. It was time to continue on my quest.

Chatbots make mistakes, or "A Tragic Mistake"

Although I had known the H&M Bot to be most ungracious to travelers far from home, she lived not far from Spring Bot, and I set out to discover if her uncouth manner had changed for the better.

To my surprise, she opened her door with a smile.

Customers can chat with the H&M chatbot for retails questions.

In my eagerness to return her welcome, my blundering fingers hit upon the wrong response. No, I did not want to see women’s clothing!

Customers can chat with the H&M chatbot to find clothese for men and women. 

I urged H&M Bot to reconsider the direction of our conversation.

Unfortunately the H&M chatbot has limitations to its natural language processing (NLP).

No matter my protestations, she forged ahead, forcing her designs upon me.

Eventually the H&M chatbot was not able to help this shopper with their question.

I had to admit that I alone was at fault. My rash typing had led to this impasse. Asking any more of H&M Bot would be but a vain and futile enterprise.

I left with my pride wounded and my head hung low. Although I had set out on this journey full of vigor and hope, it seemed as though I would, yet again, return home with nothing to show but cell phone data charges and a smudged iPhone screen. Perhaps I was not a heroic adventurer, but a bumbling fool.

Testing food bots, or "Starvation Looms"

My fingers exhausted from typing, my body crippled by the journey’s depredations, and grappling with profound despair, a ravenous hunger overtook me. While my soul yearned for pants, my stomach ached for food.

Would this barren and inhospitable land offer any sustenance? I looked to the horizon, searching for burgers.

The Burger King chatbot can help customers order food.

I was saved! Burger King Bot Pilot Project responded to my call of distress.

Although wary of its strange surname, I nevertheless rushed to its side, certain that not even the maddest creator would let a senseless bot roam free in this harsh wilderness. I begged for food.

The Burger King chatbot can help customers order hamburgers and fries.

Yes, I replied. You are Burger King Bot. And I, sir, am Ted.

Unfortunately the Burger King chatbot had limits to what it could understand.

Horror flooded my veins. What creature was this? In our era of heightened brand awareness, what thoughtless social media division would allow such an innocent bot to wander alone, through a dangerous region of mocking Twitter users and irony-savoring bloggers? The cruelty left me speechless.

Hungry though I was, no food could be found here.

I continued on until I stumbled upon what I believed was my savior, Pizza Hut Bot.

Pizza is awesome. Now we're talking. The Pizza Hut chatbot.

Here was a forthright and sensible bot! It asked questions and guided me through the process of choosing the pizza that would best nourish my haggard frame.

OMG I LOVE PIZZA.

Although eloquent and considerate, the Pizza Hut Bot suffered from the secret shame that affected all his bot brethren. When asked a question not on his menu, he turned reticent. In one moment, he was a cheerful and affable fellow. In the next, he was as shy and tongue-tied as a young lad hiding behind the hem of his mother’s dress.

WHY WON'T YOU LET TED ORDER PIZZA CHATBOT?!

Yes reader, I confess! I suffer from that scandalous affliction known as gluten intolerance. Is my infirmity only an act, the pretense of a man helplessly following every dietary craze? At this point, dear reader, not even I know.

Abandoned by Pizza Hut Bot, I trudged on, hungrier and more desperate than ever.

A human-bot hybrid approach, or "A joyful conclusion!"

Having set forth with the purpose of buying pants, I resolved to continue my journey until such pants had been bought. Whether I starved in the attempt mattered naught to me. Without pants, I would not return, and if I could not find them before being wrapped in Death’s grim embrace, I would never see my home again.

Tired yet determined, I marched forward. My vision grew blurry and my pulse weak, yet I pushed on. At the moment I believed my demise was imminent, I met my savior, Burberry Bot.

The Burberry chatbot is a nice blend of bot and human responses.

Too weak to do more than cry for help, with my last conscious breath I asked for succor.

If a customer is having trouble with the Burberry chatbot, they can request to speak with a real human being to have their questions answered.

Miraculously, Burberry responded! Not with a bot, but with a human being, who had come to the land of bots not to buy pants, but to help lost souls like myself find the pants they so dearly desired.

Nursed back to sensibility by the live consultant’s caring ministrations, I was given the pants I had come for.

And I returned home a hero.

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About Ted Carmichael

Ted Carmichael writes about eCommerce and everything else. He lives on a hill in LA and battles wild peacocks with a water gun.