It hasn’t taken long for retailers to fall in love with chatbots. Everyone from mega-corporations like Facebook to small businesses looking for a helping hand on the customer service front have at least experimented with the automated messaging tools, and a simple Google search will bring up dozens of startups trying to convince potential investors that their AI is the one that’s perfectly suited to a future where chatbots are the preferred mode of retail communication.
That is, communication from retailers to consumers. Once consumers start to employ chatbots for their own gains in retail, how will merchants react then?
It’s a reality that’s coming to pass sooner than most brands may like, and predictably so, there’s a millennial behind the rise of chatbots as tools programmed to make consumers lives easier (instead of just more shoppable). British-born Stanford University sophomore Joshua Browder is the creator of DoNotPay, a chatbot designed to help drivers contest parking tickets they feel were written in error. Through a familiar chatbot interface, users are asked information usually used in such court fights (Were signs clearly visible? Was the space itself too small? Was there an emergency that precluded safe parking?), and with the push of a button, DoNotPay generates a legal appeal on behalf of users and sends it to the proper authorities in its two operating cities, New York and London.
It may sound hokey, but Browder’s DoNotPay is having a real effect in both countries. More than 160,000 parking tickets have been successfully contested out of a total 250,000. That’s good for about $4 million in recouped ticket costs.
Merchants might think that’s all well and good and a perfectly acceptable use of chatbots in the non-retail sector, but as Browder told VentureBeat, DoNotPay represents just the tip of the iceberg as far as the ultimate utility of chatbots is concerned.
“I feel like there’s a gold mine of opportunities because so many services and information could be automated using AI, and bots are a perfect way to do that, and it’s disappointing at the moment that it’s mainly used for commerce transactions by ordering flowers and pizzas,” Browder said.
Chatbots are already a few short steps away from seriously entrenching themselves in a retail industry hungry for labor cost efficiency wherever it can find it, and as consumers grow more accepting of the technology and the convenience it ostensibly provides, it’s not out of the question for some to start wondering why there aren’t more chatbots like DoNotPay out there that automate traditionally onerous tasks like chasing down refunds and untangling oneself from the ever-increasing flood of subscription memberships on the market.
When (and not if) that happens, though, retailers might have to make some hard decisions, namely ones that contradict others they’ve made before. Amazon made headlines in May when it abruptly announced that despite a dynamic pricing policy that changes listed prices on a single item dozens of times per day, the eCommerce giant would no longer be honoring refunds on these changes except for big-ticket items like TVs. It was immediately assumed by Recode and others that the change came not internally, but rather as a result of increased activity from services like Earny and Paribus that automatically process refund requests given access to users’ emails and Amazon accounts.
Under the guise of security concerns, an Amazon spokesperson even told Recode that the company wanted “to remind [customers] not to share their Amazon account credentials with anyone.”
If that’s not a shot across the bow at Earny, Paribus and any other platform that seeks to automate and streamline the process of recouping money from Amazon, then nothing is.
So as chatbots continue to prove their utility to retailers and consumers alike, which side is going to give first when AI messaging makes the process of making money and saving it equally convenient?