Conversational Commerce: What Does RCS Have to Do With It?

Woman shopping on her mobile phone

The concept of conversational commerce has been around for several years but hasn’t been widely adopted as experts anticipated. Some thought 2016 would be its year and others thought 2019 would be its time to shine.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been adopted at all. Businesses like Facebook integrate conversational commerce by allowing users to order Uber rides directly from the Facebook Messenger app. And if you need flowers stat? You can order some from 1-800 Flowers via Facebook Messenger, too.

Is conversational commerce poised to have a breakthrough in 2020? With RCS adoption finally on the rise, we think it’s more possible than ever.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce is shopping via chat. It’s the process of helping consumers make a buying decision or offering support through a back-and-forth, conversational manner over a messaging service, a voice command program or a chatbot. This can be carried out by artificial intelligence, a live person or both.

Convenience is a huge reason why conversational commerce is so well received by consumers. Shoppers can get personalized recommendations, make a purchase, read and leave reviews, see suggested replies, process payments, ask questions and more without having to leave the messaging app. Consumers get the help they need without having to talk to an employee, and when they do need to chat with a live person, that option is a couple of clicks away.

And conversational commerce thrives on mobile. Consumers can do it all while they’re on the go, on the devices they’re already using every day. Consumers are shopping on smartphones and tablets more than ever — 73% of all digital traffic on Black Friday happened on a mobile device.

What does conversational commerce on mobile look like now?

A big adopter in conversational commerce is Facebook with integrations into Messenger and WhatsApp. While both are great examples of conversational commerce, they come with a limitation – you have to be a Facebook or WhatsApp user to benefit.

Zipwhip’s 2019 State of Texting report found that 61% of consumers would not install a new app to communicate with a business. Having to download an app or sign up for a service isn’t ideal when you’re trying to reach every customer.

How RCS will create widespread conversational commerce adoption

Here’s where texting can accelerate the adoption of conversational commerce. SMS messaging itself is limited to plain text, links and small multimedia files, so it doesn’t support true conversational commerce. RCS, however, does.

RCS (Rich Communications Services) is the soon-to-be replacement for SMS, offering the interactive experience customers want. RCS is expected to support features that tie in perfectly with conversational commerce, including:

  • Branded messaging
  • Carousel cards
  • Group chats
  • Read receipts
  • Payment processing
  • Suggested replies (i.e. individual buttons for “Yes”, “No”, “Confirm”, etc.)
  • Menus
  • Appointment booking
  • Automated chatbots

For years, RCS has been on the edge of mass availability, but recently there’s been a major breakthrough. After announcing that RCS would become Android’s primary texting platform, Google made RCS available to all Android users in late 2019. In addition, the major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) announced a joint venture in late 2019 to deliver RCS to consumers and businesses. They call it the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI).

To reach all your customers, you need to engage them on a platform they already have access to and use every day, and that’s texting. We all have a texting app ready to use on our phone right out of the box; there’s nothing extra to download and nothing to sign up for. It’s no surprise our native texting app is the most-used app on our phones. Once RCS is available to everyone, conversational commerce will be a universal service.

Plus, messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, eventually go out of style, while texting has been around for nearly 30 years.

“Messaging apps act like fashion,” said Zipwhip’s CEO John Lauer. “Like fashion trends, fun and sexy apps get disrupted. But texting is a utility, like water, electricity, or breathing oxygen. Texting has staying power.”

RCS will provide a universal way for businesses to have rich experiences with customers and reap the benefits of conversational commerce. Everyone gets to participate.

Chatbots and humans in conversational commerce

The buzz around chatbots is that in the future, bots will mimic human speech so well that consumers won’t be able to tell whether they’re talking to a human or a bot. But is this really the direction we want bots to go?

Our 2019 State of Texting Report found that 74% of people would rather talk to a real person than a chatbot when they need help. While chatbots are undoubtedly useful for taking care of low-priority issues, they can’t solve every problem. When complex assistance is needed, a human should be able to step in and help, all within the same chat window.

Chatbot vs. human in conversational commerce

A text exchange from a Zipwhip employee with a local business.

And when we’re texting, we’d expect that we’re speaking to a human. Taking that option away (or not being transparent that the consumer is talking to a bot) can leave consumers feeling duped.

Text enabling your landline phone number to text with RCS

The beauty of text enabling your existing landline phone number is that you’re using the number that’s already tied to your brand and that your customers know. There’s no additional phone number they have to find to reach you.

But the biggest advantage to using your phone number to text your customers over RCS is that you can still reach each other even when offline. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp only work when the user has internet connection. With RCS, they’re using their service provider, and if data connection isn’t available or the customer doesn’t yet have RCS, messages will automatically default to SMS and MMS.

However, this all ties back to the desire to speak to an actual human instead of just “the brand.”

“Quite often the consumer wants to interact with an individual of the business, whether it’s their sales rep at a car dealership, as opposed to just interacting with the car dealership or even with just the automotive brand itself,” said Lauer. “And the way to achieve an individual communication with somebody of the business is through phone numbers.”

What your business can do now to provide conversational commerce to your customers

Zipwhip is already working with select brands to bring RCS to its customers, and we hope to make it widely available to Zipwhip customers in the near future.

If you’re not a Zipwhip customer, reaching your customers via SMS is still a step in the right direction. After all, conversational commerce is ultimately about the conversation. You can do this with the help of business texting software that provides bot-like, automation features, like Auto-Reply, Keywords, Scheduled Messages and Templates, to give customers a better shopping experience.

When RCS is eventually on everyone’s phone, you’ll want to be prepared to take advantage of all that RCS and conversational commerce have to offer. It’s one of the easiest steps a business can make to engage more with customers and drive more sales.


Want to learn more about how to get started with texting for business? Download our free e-book The Ultimate Guide to Texting Your Customers.

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