If Rob LoCascio  is to believed we are going to see major changes in the way e-commerce is conducted in the very near future, i.e., this year. Shop websites will eventually go away and make room for conversational interfaces (bots). I find this thought intriguing and I think there are already sings that this can actually happen sooner than later. How this will eventually play out is still not clear, but there are some writings on the wall that point towards conversational interfaces.
Let’s start by briefly looking at how the current generation of Internet users engages with the Internet . The do not surf the web by following links from one page to another: they chat with their friends; they follow “influencers” on Instagram or Pinterest; they watch youtube videos. This is a fundamental change in online behavior: people who grew up with the Internet in the 90ies experienced the Internet as hypertext: follow a link and find more information. The underlying concept allowed users to break free from a sequential way of consuming information: one could start reading an article and at one point navigate to another page if the author included a link or just jump to another web page by entering an web address into the address bar of the browser.
However, the now dominant form of experiencing the internet is the stream. All social media platforms serve their users endless streams of short texts, pictures or videos. The content originates from your social contacts. Your friends fill your stream with all kind of content and social media platforms use this stream to serve you adds of businesses.
Current e-commerce Webshops offer an experience that is conceptually close to the hypertext version of the web. There are links from one item to another and just like with a traditional browser, users have a kind of address bar that can be used to find other items on the web shop.
Now, how will a conversational online shop actually work, i.e., what is the design paradigm? I think the next version of the online shop will be based on the stream. Entering a shop will give users a stream of items that they can scroll through. Just like with social media platforms, where users chat with each other in a stream, users will ask questions (e.g., search for items) and the shop will respond with messages in the stream.
Ultimately, I believe that online shops will be present on many different (conversational) platforms: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype or even Alexa Skills. While the traditional web shop might not die over night, it’s days are certainly numbered.