Retailers and brands have offered chat for years, but recently it has gained traction thanks to new technology advancements and consumers’ overall comfort using chat. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® shows that 42% of US online adults said that it was important for retailers to offer live online chat on their websites, up significantly from 27% in 2019.

Chat in retail can take many forms, but we divide the use cases among three categories: customer service, commerce, and marketing. We recently evaluated 113 US merchants across multiple categories to evaluate the current state of chat in retail and found that:

  1. Customer service is the most common use case. Nearly every retailer we evaluated with chat offered customer service features. These capabilities included prepurchase features like checking store hours and product availability as well as post-purchase features like order tracking and returns and exchange information.
  2. Consumers don’t use chat to make purchases. Very few retailers allow customers to complete transactions within chat, and of those who did, most offered clunky experiences like requiring customers to call an agent to give their payment information and confirm their identity before making a purchase. Instead, the bigger opportunity is to influence purchase via chat with capabilities such as product recommendations, inventory availability, and in-store appointment scheduling.
  3. Retailers offer chat on third-party platforms, but the main focus is still the website. Some retailers that we evaluated offered chat on platforms like Messenger, but most only offered bare-bones features and instead focused on their website (desktop and mobile) for chat experiences.

To better understand the evolving presence of chat in retail, check out the full report, “The State Of Chat In Retail, 2021,” or listen to our webinar on the topic, The State Of Chat In Retail: The Current And Future States.

And to learn more about how you can apply chat in retail, see our series covering chat and best practices by ALDI, Ashley HomeStore, Bloomingdale’s, Dell, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Lidl, Men’s Warehouse, Sephora (example 1 and example 2), The Vitamin Shoppe, Tractor Supply Company, Urban Outfitters, Warby Parker (example 1 and example 2), and Wendy’s.

(written with Senior Research Associate Hailey Colin)