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Study: Chatbots rule customer service efforts

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Automated interaction is increasingly preferred by digital shoppers — and demand is increasing.

Specifically, 44% of shoppers said that if a company could get it right, they would prefer to use a chatbot or an automated assistant for customer service interaction — up four points from the 2015 survey. Half of them said that they would rather conduct all brand interaction via text/messaging, with 39% saying the digital-first methods are more effective than talking.

These are some of the findings of the “2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index” from Aspect, a technology provider of cloud-based contact center and workforce optimization solutions. The firm surveyed 1,000 American consumers to investigate the attitudes, preferences and behaviors regarding customer touchpoints and engagement within the specific context of self- service, specifically regarding “intelligent assist” and “chatbots.”

A chatbot experience, broadly defined as a self-service experience, creates good will with customers, the report said. For example, 61% of shoppers said chatbots will allow simple to moderate requests to be handled faster. But more importantly, two-thirds of consumers said they feel good about themselves and the company when they are able to answer a question or solve a problem by themselves without the help of a customer service agent.

“This is no longer just a way for companies to reduce costs by handing simple and repetitive queries over to automated assistants,” said Joe Gagnon, Aspect’s chief customer strategy officer.

“This is an opportunity for companies to satisfy a growing customer demand. But even though a large number of consumers now prefer using chatbots, they aren’t going to tolerate a substandard experience,” he added. “The important thing is that companies who deploy automated interaction must provide an experience that is connected to the rest of the customer experience ecosystem.”

However, many brands still do deliver automation in isolation — which puts them at risk of alienating customers. For example, an overwhelming number of consumers (88%) expect the context of their interaction on a chatbot to follow them as they transition to a live person. Delivering on this is essential because a good number of respondents think automated assistance will end up giving them the same frustrating experience that antiquated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions did, the study said.

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Report: Search dominated Thanksgiving weekend sales decisions

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

With many Thanksgiving weekend digital purchases stemming from searches, the convenience of mobility is helping to drive this uptick.

That’s according to the “2016 Search Spend and Purchase Report,” from NetElixir. The study analyzing more than 11 million visits across four different verticals (food and gourmet, consumer electronics, apparel and gifting), starting on Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday.

The report showed that mobile devices (both mobile and tablet) surpassed desktop in terms of visit share, reaching between 53% and 55%. However, desktop still leads in sales with a sales-share close to 60%.

“Retailers need to pay attention to the influx of mobile commerce. It can very well be the case that next year, mobile might overtake desktop, changing drastically the landscape of how people buy,” said NetElixir founder and CEO Udayan Bose. “Factors like location and ease of purchasing on a mobile device might become critical to consumers making purchasing decisions. The time for retailers to shift to mobile is now.”

One process that could drive this trend is the value of search. During the holiday shopping weekend, search spend year-over-year (YoY) growth peaked between 18% and 20%. Voice-based searches increased 200% from last year, and “Near Me” searches increased 45% from last year, the study said.

Consumers shopped most on Sunday over the weekend, and the most popular times of day to buy were between 5 and 6 p.m. on Black Friday and between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Cyber Monday. Clicks were up by 38% while impressions — when an ad is viewed by an online visitor — were up by 71%. Meanwhile, latency, the time between when a consumer expresses interest in a product and actually buys the product, was lowest on Sunday, suggesting that they were driven to purchase by the offers on this specific day, the report said.

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Manhattan jewelry flagship transports shoppers to Bali

BY Marianne Wilson

Luxury jewelry brand John Hardy evokes its Balinese roots at its new, multi-sensory flagship in Manhattan’s SoHo.

The new boutique is the brand’s second U.S. location, and follows on the heels of its store in Houston. John Hardy’s foray into freestanding retail comes amid a full brand transformation, led by CEO, and former American Eagle Outfitter chief, Robert Hanson that includes reaching the customer at multiple touchpoints. (In 2014, John Hardy was acquired by private equity firm Catterton, which appointed Hanson as CEO.)

Additional plans include expansion of e-commerce and a limited number of retail boutiques in key cities.

Conceptualized by architectural firm Design Republic, the 1,200-sq.-ft., three-level flagship celebrate the brand's heritage and roots in artisan craftsmanship and is designed to engage all five senses with the myth and magic of Balinese artisanship.

The highlight of the space is the second-floor artisan workshop that will host master classes, workshops, talks, and various installations across various disciplines. It will also serve as an actual workshop for John Hardy artisan in residence from overseas.

The flagship blends together scent, sound, light and art for a reimagining of the brand’s jewelry workshop in Bali. A lush, custom scent wafts through the store, conjuring up the verdant grounds of Bali, while the lighting system (from Ketra) shifts throughout the day to evoke the rising and setting of the Balinese sun. A custom playlist blends nomadic beats and natural soundscapes.

In keeping with founder John Hardy's creative vision as an artist and environmental sculptor, the walls of the store showcase gallery-styled collections. Signature carved wood details punctuate the space with rich walnut and hammered gold inlays. A large-scale art installation hand-carved from teakwood tree root serves as a dynamic focal point.

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