After various experiences on the agency side of marketing, Matthias Mehner (40) spent five years as Head of Social Media Marketing at German media company ProSiebenSat. 1. In summer 2017 he moved to the marketing leading software provider MessengerPeople, where he focuses on Messenger and Chatbot use for businesses, institutions, and brands.

Matthias Mehner has been a presenter and keynote speaker at a variety of conferences about marketing, social media, and digital transformation. He is a lecturer at the Academy of German Media in Munich, as well as an author for the German digital marketing magazine “Lead Digital,” where he writes a weekly column about Messenger Marketing and Chatbots.

In your opinion, what trends defined e-commerce in 2018 and which will be a shaping force in 2019?

Individual service! “Out with omnichannel advertising floods, in with personalized sales services” – that’s how I would characterize the trend that has most affected the e-commerce branch in 2018. This year, rather than indiscriminately spreading advertising across all channels, many online shops and retailers discovered the potential of direct customer dialogue. The British retailer “Threads” was the first fashion retailer to start selling their products – including luxury brands like Fendi, Chopard, and Dior – exclusively over messaging apps. That means completely without an online shop or app.

In this landscape of countless offers and providers, the product itself is no longer the main factor for sales: the emotional connection with the brand is carrying more weight. After years of annoying banner advertisement, popups, display ads, and spam emails, customers have no more patience for “artificial” marketing. Instead, customers want to receive sales support (from first consultations to after-sales) through personal dialogues and offers.

For these purposes, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger and Co. are the best medium. 2018 wasn’t just the year of personalization, but also the year in which messaging apps picked up steam as the dominating communication channel.

In addition, I see four other trends that will be important for e-commerce in the next years:

  1. Widespread introduction of mobile payment: Apple, Google, and other providers are already moving forward here. In the middle term, we can expect to see mobile purchasing behaviour take over – and this will naturally heighten the demand for messenger communication.
  2. More flexibility in delivery processes: Market leader Amazon is the “prime” example of subscription models for automated repeat deliveries, express delivery, and store pick up. The e-commerce branch will have to strengthen their delivery capabilities in 2019, and the connection and integration between online and offline stores will need to improve.
  3. Augmented reality: customers already expect more than the classic product photos that we all know from catalogues. The future of product advertisement is 3D, dynamic, virtual, and interactive. Videos will be able to show a detailed preview of products, and how to use them. The first examples of augmented reality can show how your new standing lamp will look in your living room – and will make not only the customer’s shopping experience better, but also raise conversion rates for businesses.
  4. Voice assistants: with Alexa, Siri and co., speech assistants have already secured their spot at the table. As voice assistants become more widespread and their technology is improved, consumers will increasingly begin to search for products using voice commands. This will change not only the structure of shops and online portals but the entire online marketing branch.

How can e-commerce profit from using chat channels like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp?

The biggest and most successful of our messenger customers come from e-commerce, like Essence, Otto, and other top German retailers. There are a variety of reasons for this success – one of them is the sensational KPIs that businesses can reach with WhatsApp and Co. Almost 90% of all messages sent over WhatsApp are read within 15 minutes, and more than half of these messages show up on the customer’s lock screen. Click through rates with an average of 30% put e-mail and social media marketing to shame.

Additionally, WhatsApp has established itself as the main channel for sharing news and deals with friends. Customers rank this channel as the most direct, the most personal, and the most important. Messaging apps are ideal not only for raising awareness about products and services, but also for use and optimization in sales and after sales communication.

The fashion portal Threads says “Messaging apps help us offer a new type of personal and interactive shopping experience – similar to what you experience when you enter a department store.”

Do you think that Chatbots are going to be used for e-commerce, and how would you recommend using them?

Chatbots are already being successfully used in e-commerce today. The grocery store Allyouneedfresh uses a WhatsApp Order Bot: customers can type in their desired groceries – or even send photos of recipes – and then receive a link to their updated shopping basket. eBay rolled out a ShopBot in 2016 to optimize conversation rates and customer satisfaction in the buying process. Klarmobil decided to go with a Chatbot named “Elvis” rather than creating an app.

Chatbots can be flexibly created, which makes it easy to integrate them into all steps of the e-commerce customer journey. You can use them for short, automated surveys that evaluate customer needs and preferences, and for processing standard questions, for example with an FAQ Bot for delivery times and costs. You can even create raffles and giveaways with a Quizbot, and fully automate your customer service or sales processes.

What’s most important is that you as an e-commerce company decide at the very beginning what you want to use your Bot for and what value the Bot should offer the customers. Do you want to offer a guided or open-ended dialogue? What should the Chatbot talk about? How should I react to questions that my Chatbot can’t answer? The tone of the Bot should fit the company. Most people want a friendly, funny Chatbot. In my opinion, the Chatbot should speak exactly how the users would expect a representative of the company to speak. And naturally, the Bot should offer something special, a service or feature that can’t be found on the homepage.

What do you think the customer service of the future is going to look like, and which channels will dominate?

The customer service of the future is personal, direct, and fast. And of course: helpful! Together with German research institution YouGov, we created a comprehensive customer service survey. The results showed that customer service via messaging apps is over three times more popular than customer service via social media and twice as popular as live chat over a website.

The customer service functions that people would most like to see on WhatsApp are scheduling appointments, receiving information, or dealing with reclamations. Their greatest advantages are cited as the lack of a waiting line, and not being dependent on opening times. By using multimedia content (text, photos, videos, audio files, and PDF files) you can also communicate the solutions to complex issues better and help your customers more quickly.

How does MessengerPeople differentiate itself from other options for managing messaging app communication?

We are one of the few global providers who officially support Apple Business Chat, and who offer the Business Chat in one central tool with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. We will also be expanding our portfolio this year with another big player in messenger communications.

We also offer our customers complete legal security and reliability, including full data-protection compliance.

We are also focused on service and consultation – especially because messenger communication is still new territory for most companies. Our customers value that we not only offer an innovative software solution, but that we also can explain the topic and the best strategies in a user-friendly way. We are a software company with real people behind it: the MessengerPeople.