As technology advances, so too does e-commerce. The long-term success of digital giants like Amazon is living proof of the demand for e-commerce. Retailers need to constantly update their digital efforts to stay competitive. But, their customers do too. One thing that aids both sides in several ways is shopping bots.
For many people, the term ‘shopping bot’ is used to cover a wide array of services. This article will break them down into two main categories. After I explain what they are, I will then cover how they help you as a shopper.
What Are Shopping Bots?
A shopping bot is an automated program that is hosted remotely. It will accept your input to aid you with FAQs, scheduling or payment services, making a purchase, and many other similar features. Users don’t even need to download an app to use them. Instead, they are integrated into existing chat services or built into a website. Best of all, they offer 24/7 service with immediate responses.
Shopping bots are fundamentally a tool intended to help a consumer make a purchase. Or at least strengthen brand loyalty, usually leading to future purchases. They can be a service offered by a retailer, in the form of a shopping assistant chatbot for conversational commerce. Or, they can be a tool for potential customers, making price comparisons and automating the checkout process.
Some bots can fulfill both roles, making the line between the two types a bit blurry. A well-known AI that counts as both types of shopping bots with several extra features is Amazon’s Alexa. However, most shopping bots are much simpler in comparison. They normally have a limited scope of features in mind, rather than being advanced AI.
Let’s go over the retailer’s side of shopping bots real quick, then I’ll discuss automated purchase-style shopping bots.
Shopping Assistant Chatbots
Considering you’ve navigated the internet enough to find this article, I can nearly guarantee that you have interacted with a chatbot before. You might not have even realized it was a bot at the time. At the rate with which they continue to improve, it will become even harder to tell the difference between a bot and a real person.
We all love when businesses have a more conversational feel, even if it isn’t directly related to their service. Look at the increased popularity of brands with active social media, like Wendy’s or Arby’s. But, we can’t typically expect to have that type of interaction with a business’ employee at the drop of a hat.
Pros of Shopping Assistant Chatbots
Chatbots let companies offer a one on one conversational experience with unlimited scalability. Customers can use them at any time, anywhere, and on any device. The bot doesn’t take breaks, and there is no wait time before connecting. If it’s programmed well enough, it can service the vast majority of your needs without having to wait for an employee to be available.
Let’s be real. When you have a question about a product, do you enjoy calling in, navigating their lengthy directory, and then sitting on hold for who knows how long? Or, would you prefer to just shoot a text, getting an immediate response?
Phone-only, or even worse, in-person-only services are a fast way of driving people to a more tech-savvy competitor, for sure. If only the medical field would catch up to e-commerce, too. Ahem, moving on.
Cons of Shopping Assistant Chatbots
We’re still a long way away from sufficiently advanced machine learning to make a flawless bot. They can misunderstand requests, or forget something you mentioned a few messages ago. Not that people don’t do those two things sometimes, too.
If a chatbot is misunderstanding you, the confusion can be hard to clear, which is often extremely frustrating. Also, chatbots rarely, if ever, openly state that they are a bot, rather than a person. It can then be challenging to request an actual person when one is needed.
But, overall, their usefulness largely outweighs the occasional bad scenarios. With all of that said, let’s move on to automatic purchasing bots.
Automated Purchase Bots
There are several nicknames for automated purchase shopping bots that you may have heard of: sniper bots, grinch bots, and e-commerce bots. Automatic purchase shopping bots have actually been around for quite some time. If you’re old enough, you probably remember when eBay was wildly popular and sniper bots came out in force, changing the playing field back in 1998. Yes, my back hurts too.
Like sneaker bots, which started around 2015, sniper bots function by requiring a lot of pre-determined information from you as the user. Then, when the right conditions are met, they will conduct the purchase on your behalf, replicating human usage data-wise but at a much higher speed.
They require at least one proxy though. Otherwise, the site(s) they are shopping on will recognize that all that traffic is coming from one source and block it. Several sellers normally offer sales restrictions per customer in an attempt to combat scalpers, but the right shopping bots utilizing proxies can circumvent this restriction.
Pros of Automated Purchase Bots
A normal human can’t compete with the speed of an automatic purchase bot using a proxy or three between them and the website(s) they are purchasing from. This leads to the colloquially called grinch bots being able to buy out entire stocks of products the moment they are available. After doing this, the successful buyer can then re-sell at potentially outrageous markups. I’m looking at you, PlayStation 5.
Let’s go back to the sniper bots on eBay. You could plan out how much you were willing to spend at your leisure, resisting your heat of the moment last-minute impulses to overspend. Then, you could set it up to do the purchase minutes, if not seconds, before the auction ended, not giving other people time to outbid you. And, this was all done without you needing to be present to click anything at the time of bidding.
Of course, automatic purchase bots do have perks beyond competing with other people over goods. They can check through numerous websites in moments to find the best price for something you wish to purchase. Then they can redirect you accordingly, if not outright buy it for you. All the convenience of one click, but for anything, anywhere. Just, you know, you had to set it all up first.
Cons of Automated Purchase Bots
You have to buy/rent an automatic purchase bot to use it, and they aren’t cheap. A lot of setup is involved, and if you aren’t already tech-savvy, it is a daunting task. If you don’t already have a proxy service, they are absolutely required if you don’t want to get immediately blocked.
If you are looking to try botting to flip things for profit, you’d have to join cookgroups for updates on what to buy, which have fees of their own. Buying things large-scale while falsely appearing to be several different customers also requires a lot of extra setup on top of the basic configurations.
There will always be other people botting too, so there’s no guarantee of success. Even if you do get the goods, there is also no guarantee of profits when reselling, either. There is also the massive negative social stigma against scalpers of all stripes. In 2019, there was even an attempt to make grinch bots illegal, though it didn’t pass.
As is the case with all things tech-related, a bot may be maliciously designed. You should always do your homework before giving personal information to anyone or thing, while only using well-known and trusted services.
Every form of shopping bot is a useful tool to help you as a potential customer. They can help when you need to know if that sweater will fit your dog at 3:12 AM on a Saturday before deciding to buy it. Or, they can help you make sure you get that tiny sweater at the best price possible. Wait, is it machine washable? Yes? Buy one for every member of the book club!
With the holidays right around the corner, surely you still have some last-minute shopping to do. Shopping bots can help you. If you’re looking to out-speed the grinches, or perhaps dabble with being a grinch yourself, you’ll need a proxy first!