1-800-Flowers.com bets on bots, conversational commerce

The gift retailer is making a big play with bots, voice and AI to make consumers happy, no matter what the occasion.

Over the course of four weeks, 1-800-Flowers.com, which calls itself “the world's leading destination for floral and gourmet gifts,” made a huge push into conversational commerce, or the ability to place orders via chat- and voice-based technologies.

In announcement after announcement, 1-800-Flowers.com said the primary goal is to embrace emerging technologies to enhance the customer experience – and to perhaps even change gift-giving as we know it.

For his part, Tony Valado, vice president of multi-brand marketing at 1-800-Flowers.com, said the brand sees technology as a means to improve its customer relationships on a one-to-one basis. And it is particularly important for 1-800-Flowers.com to cultivate those bonds because, “They trust us to deliver their happiness, joy, [sorrow] and many other sentiments to the most important people in their lives,” he said. “We must do everything in our power to make good on that trust.”

Here’s a closer look at how 1-800-Flowers.com is using technology to enhance the customer experience.

Facebook Messenger Bots

Starting with an announcement on April 12, 1-800-Flowers.com said it built a bot for Facebook Messenger that “will interact with customers using natural language” and “offer customers the ease and convenience of ordering floral gifts through Messenger.”

In fact, 1-800-Flowers.com said it is blending the bot with live customer service support on Messenger to “serve as gift concierges and answer questions, make gifting suggestions, process orders, send shipping updates and provide an array of other important information such as gift reminders.”

Per Valado, bots give customers both ease and speed of use.

“You can very quickly send a gift through a bot and not have to go through pages and pages to find the gift,” he said. “With a bot, it's a very natural way in which customers interact in their daily lives through chat and conversations.”

What's more, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself pointed to 1-800-Flowers.com as an example of a brand using chat-based commerce on Messenger during his keynote at the F8 developers’ conference, which is just one example of how brands are turning to bots to engage with consumers, making “bots” easily one of the hottest marketing buzzwords of 2016.

Voice-Enabled Orders Via Alexa

Then, on April 26, 1-800-Flowers.com introduced voice-enabled gifting using Amazon Alexa on the Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap and Fire TV devices.

Per 1-800-Flowers.com, to order, customers say, "Alexa, ask 1-800-Flowers.com to order a dozen roses," and the brand will process the order and arrange for delivery.

However, in order to ensure the recipient gets the precise roses the customer intends to send, Valado said Alexa – and bot – ordering is very structured.

“Given that both bots and conversational commerce are cutting-edge channels, customers haven't experienced them yet and our goal was to make it as simple and seamless as possible. In Messenger, we have the advantage of using images, hybrid text and click interface so a customer sees exactly what they are sending [as well as] all their data within the chat stream,” he said. “With voice, there are no images -- in that case, we limit the gifting options to our top sellers and make available very detailed product descriptions that they can listen to. We are planning new features that will allow for more visual representations and ensuring the customer receives all the information they are looking for.”

He declined to share how many orders have been placed via bot and voice to date, saying only “We are very pleased with the performance.”

AI-Powered Gift Concierge

And, finally, 1-800-Flowers.com debuted an AI-powered gift concierge, Gwyn, on May 3.


1-800-Flowers.com

Per 1-800-Flowers.com, Gwyn, which stands for “Gifts When You Need,” is powered by IBM’s Watson platform and “intuitively guides customers through their shopping experience to help them select the perfect gift.”

Using IBM Watson's Question Analysis API, 1-800-Flowers.com said Gwyn can interact with mobile and desktop customers using natural language, interpreting questions about gifts and asking follow-ups about the occasion, sentiment and recipient to “ensure she shares the appropriate, tailored gift suggestion with each customer.”

Gwyn is in beta across the 1-800-Flowers.com suite of brands, which also includes Harry & David and The Popcorn Factory.

Further, 1-800-Flowers.com said, “As customers continue to use Gwyn, her underlying cognitive capabilities will enable her to learn about their unique gifting needs and wants, refining and enhancing the shopping experience specific to each customer over time.”

Indeed, Valado noted Gwyn’s intelligence will make the brand’s bots and voice implementations better and easier for customers to use as time goes on.

Conversational Commerce: Watch This Space

Valado said 1-800-Flowers.com is making the push into conversational commerce as the brand sees it as the next big wave.

“We had e-commerce, mobile and [the] next is conversational commerce, which, unlike mobile and web…is not tied to a specific device,” he said. “Alexa will be a strong player in that category, along with Facebook Messenger and all conversational platforms.”

Indeed, he said 1-800-Flowers.com saw its customers using Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik and other platforms and “knew we had to be there.”

“We wanted to make sure that we got to market as quickly as possible to make sure we are able to learn, iterate and perfect the experience as more and more of our customers take to these channels,” Valado said. “For us, it was more about getting as much learning as possible, quickly, to make these channels excellent customer experience channels.”

And “in the near future,” Valado said 1-800-Flowers.com will be on other messaging and voice platforms as well.

“If it's in the conversational commerce space and they allow brands to interact, you will see our entire family of brands there,” he added. In addition, Valado noted the game will change further with the influx of IoT and voice technology in consumers’ homes and cars.

“The simple task of saying, ‘Alexa, ask 1-800-Flowers to send Dena flowers,’ while sitting on the couch or cooking dinner will give customers the ability to interact with our brand without being attached to a device,” Valado said. “It will literally free their hands to do other things.”

And this, he said, goes back to the customer experience and wanting to ensure consumers are able to “act on their thoughtfulness whenever, however and wherever they are.”

Lisa Lacy is a freelance writer covering digital and search marketing. She's also a contributor to Search Engine Journal, State of Digital and VentureBeat and previously covered the industry for ClickZ, SEW and Momentology. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.