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The Power of Asking Questions – The Future of Online Retail Hinges on Conversations

When looking at the traditional online shopping experience today, there is a clear rift between what consumers need and what most websites offer, and it shows in the conversion rates: only 2% of online traffic converts, while the average conversion rate in a physical store, where shoppers can ask questions and receive personalized advice, is typically 40%.

E-commerce has an obvious engagement problem. So what are the reasons?

  • Many brands and retailers are still stuck in their old ways. They keep pounding consumers with products and messaging like its 1990. It’s not their fault. It’s actually hard to deliver personalized engagement at scale. But since the majority is going down this route, it only results in diminishing response rates. To be relevant and impactful, companies must, therefore, move away from pushing products and toward valuable engagement during the consumer’s “moments of want.”
  • Heavy focus on generating traffic. As businesses spend most of their digital budgets on driving traffic, there seems to be the prevalent assumption that the largest part of a marketer’s job is done when a shopper has visited a site. It isn’t. Given the amount of choices consumers have, they will be website-hopping and spending more time evaluating every purchase decision. Investment, therefore, has to shift from generating traffic to converting the traffic that has landed through helpful, relevant, and authentic guidance and engagement.
  • Underrating the value of the human touch. Human interaction, personalized experiences, and real-time assistance haven’t suddenly become less important because people are shopping online. They’re as important as ever, and companies have to integrate the human touch on digital channels to reduce customer effort and help them along the purchasing journey.

It’s no longer an option to stand still and exhibit a sluggish attitude. With machine learning and deep learning now more accessible, companies can create smarter, frictionless, and more engaging interactions by

  • having a two-way conversation to listen and understand true needs, preferences, and context,
  • combining technology with human expertise and real-time assistance, and
  • giving customers what they actually want in that moment.

There is an urgent need to bring such a personal, 1:1 experience to the largely impersonal digital customer journeys. Advanced AI systems, digital assistants, and other technologies in combination with a unique human touch and creativity are essential for crafting experiences that make customers feel special and cared for.

The proof is in the ROI. For example, zoovu’s research has found that brands and retailers can increase conversions by 107%, on average, after adding these elements to their digital channels.

Conversational commerce, the next evolution of digital commerce

Conversational commerce isn’t necessarily new, but it’s quickly emerging as the way that companies bring the best of 1:1 human engagement to the digital shopping experience.

It finally gives consumers the hands-on, personalized support they were accustomed to before e-commerce took off and helps brands deliver an experience that motivates consumers to become more engaged and likely to buy.

So what makes a great conversational commerce experience?

Ingredient 1: Ask questions

If you want consumers to let down their guard, share their wants, and reduce their fear of purchasing, you have to let down yours and get involved. No matter what you are selling, people have a psychological resistance to purchasing something if they’re being overtly sold to, even if they want to make a purchase. The secret to getting consumers engaged and piquing their interest is to ask them questions. Allow a conversation to happen and find out why that shopper visited your site today.

Ingredient 2: Learn how to ask the right kind of questions

For a start, get rid of conversation openers like “Can I help you?” or “Hi, I’m (Generic Chatbot Name). How may I help you today?”

It’s a closed-ended question that can only elicit a simple yes-no answer, and when it comes to parting with money, people are more inclined to say “no” by default.

You’ll be able to be more effective by asking questions that

  • are specific and focused,
    – What kind of project are you working on?
    – Are you looking more for savings or durability?
  • consider the context and intent of shoppers,
    – What are you trying to get (this devices/tool) to do?
    – Who are you buying this (gift/present/item) for?
  • and let consumers think about themselves and their wants.
    – What’s more important to you, (“A” benefit) or (“B” benefit)?
    – What are your concerns?

Ingredient 3: Sprinkle in a little basic psychology

Good salespeople get better at asking the right questions with every customer interaction they have. They learn how to read behavioral cues, understand context, and use past experiences as well as basic consumer psychology to inform how they drive future conversations with customers.

With AI and machine learning, businesses can replicate and even augment these experiences on digital channels.

For example, Amazon uses a wine assistant that asks questions and helps people find the right wine based on their answers. It analyzes millions of data points and continuously learns from customer interactions to help the marketers at Amazon optimize which, how, and when questions are being asked. This way, they don’t have to rely on guesswork or run time-consuming multivariate tests.

Want to see more examples? Check out this list of zoovu AI digital sales assistants

amazon digital assistant


Shopping is and has always been a conversational experience. Making an effort to converse with consumers and offer them friendly, contextual, real-time support on digital channels will be the differentiator in the years to come.

Engaging customers in a conversation and looking out for them is the cornerstone of a mutually profitable customer journey. This pre-purchase engagement is critical to making a sale and delighting a customer.

The closer an online store comes to engaging customers in such conversations and offering a human experience, the higher its revenue and customer satisfaction are going to get.


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Ada is Senior Content and Web Strategist at