Let’s Chat About Conversational Commerce

It’s tomorrow in retail-land.

Want a product? A service?

Say so to a listening device that understands your every word to over ninety percent accuracy, then translates your spoken word to an order, to a shipment, then to automatic billing, and finally to an established financial account.

Most of us know this from Amazon’s brilliant combination of the Echo listening device, Alexa app, and Prime shipping services.  Of course, other tech giants have entered or are now announcing their entrance into the data-driven conversational commerce arena: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Samsung.

What Conversational Commerce Requires

From a technology perspective, delivery of conversational commerce is no small feat. It’s not just the conversational side of a well-tuned listening device and accurate natural language recognition. The commerce side will demand next-generation, prediction-with-precision shopper knowledge and demand management — the stuff of advanced data acquisition and analysis — integrated into a unified business platform that works seamlessly in both horizontal (across channels) and vertical (from vendors to the pantry shelf) directions.

In short, it’s a major challenge. Yet it’s a challenge that none in today’s retail industry can ignore.

Because conversational commerce is a big step — perhaps giant leap — closer to what shoppers prefer.

In that regard, perhaps we should call it convenient commerce. Optimally convenient commerce.

A Simple, Convenient Origin

When asked recently to provide an operative definition of conversational commerce, Professor Brian Subirana of the Auto-ID Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tilted his head back and laughed before telling the story of his beloved grandmother, years ago in Brian’s native Catalonia.

“My grandmother did conversational commerce 35 years ago,” Brian said. “She’d sit in the kitchen and say, ‘Brian, go get this. Or go get that. Very conversational!”

The simplest of conversations. Brian, the dutiful grandson, knew what she meant and what she needed. The intelligence wasn’t artificial nor learned by a machine, but it was the essential element to value. His grandmother didn’t just want ham; she wanted a certain type of a certain quality from a specific butcher. Paella tonight? Not only could she send him out for the ingredients, but she could give him instructions on what’s in season and what flavors to get — everything that made his grandmother’s paella so special. And payment, that most friction-creating point in the shopper journey? Handled by the grandson, out of sight and trusted, with change back on the peseta.

From the grandmother’s perspective, what could be easier?

Optimizing Conversational Commerce

Several weeks ago, in a special session preceding the Consumer Goods Forum Summit in Berlin, it was announced that a consortium of the MIT Auto-ID Lab, Capgemini, and the Industry Sales Group at Intel — along with several leading retail and consumer goods brands — had launched a research initiative into the technologies, business processes, and potential industry-wide standards that could make conversational commerce (or perhaps, convenient commerce) a reality for the broader retail consumer goods industry. That research initiative is now underway. Six teams are working on six broad critical issues, with reports due late this year.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact me at Jon.c.stine@intel.com.

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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.