March 15, 2017
By John Stewart
Chatbots have been carrying out commerce on messenger apps only since last spring, yet already some observers are less than thrilled with the experience, says Zephrin Lasker, chief executive and cofounder of a startup called ShopChat. “Many companies are pursuing robot assistant chatbots to interact with people on messaging. These efforts have been disappointing,” Lasker says in a post on the San Francisco-based company’s blog.
People chatting with people while shopping is what stimulates more buying, he says. So on Wednesday, his company emerged from stealth mode with what it is calling the world’s first mobile-shopping keyboard.
The keyboard, which can be summoned like an emoji keyboard, is free to users and is working so far with several brands, including Sephora, Guess, and Foot Locker. The company claims 100,000 users, mostly women and girls under the age of 24.
The keyboard works on more than nine messenger apps, including Facebook Messenger, which kicked off the chatbot craze. Messenger apps are wildly popular, having seen their user base worldwide grow from 1.07 billion in 2014 to 1.61 billion last year, according to eMarketer, which projects that base will climb to 2.19 billion by 2019.
But ShopChat says what people are really after on these apps is the ability to share details while shopping. “No one really wants to talk to a computer, any more than they want to talk to a voice-response system. That’s been the problem with shopping bots,” says Lasker in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s announcement. “What people really want is a better way to share products with friends, and to be able to buy right from chat.”
That’s where the keyboard comes in, or so ShopChat hopes. It’s starting to convince investors. The company has just completed a $1.25 million funding round led by Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce merchant that happens to own Viber, a big messaging app that supports ShopChat.
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