Tell us more about your role at Viber and Viber’s e-commerce platform.
Viber is the third-largest messaging app in the world with 1 billion registered users. Viber provides a secure platform for private conversations—we’re end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning that we can’t and don’t read or monitor private conversations or listen to private calls happening between users. On the e-commerce side, we work with brands to advertise directly to consumers who consent to engagement. We don’t give brands access to our users’ personal and private information to serve targeted ads—we only allow brands to target users from their activity and engagement in public forums, groups or communities. As the VP of e-commerce at Rakuten Viber, I work with my team to develop the entire e-commerce strategy including features like Viber’s native shopping keyboard, which allows users to discover and share products.
How is this platform different than what other Social Media companies and messaging apps are doing?
Viber’s security is a major differentiator. As I mentioned, Viber is end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning we aren’t able to read or provide our advertisers access to users’ private conversations or calls. This means that when brands do interact with users, the users are more receptive to information and are more likely to have a meaningful engagement than if they were served a targeted but meaningless ad. And Viber’s unique keyboard format for e-commerce is an easy and message-native way to share and shop with friends.
Are deal days like Amazon Prime Day a good way for e-commerce brands to create loyalty with new customers?
Although brands and vendors may believe that they’ll gain long term benefits from major deal days such as Amazon Prime Day, the Giant Sales numbers may not speak to the realistic outcome. Not only do some members sign up for Prime purely for the deal day Sales, but in addition, these Sales often result in one-time purchases instead of long-term customer loyalty. There are many key follow-ups needed to sales like Prime Day in order to turn one-time customers into repeat customers. For example, personalized customer rewards and great customer service outside of Amazon.
What are the advantages for brands to use messaging apps for e-commerce?
Customer experience is critical for brand loyalty, and messaging apps provide the advantage of one-to-one interaction and engagement that other platforms don’t allow. Social Media is typically focused on group interactions, and therefore proves to be a great way to collect feedback or share a question with a large group. Messaging apps however can take these interactions to the next level. When consumers are able to “opt-in” to a conversation it creates a different kind of engagement—one that has proven more meaningful in customer loyalty. When using a platform like Viber, these one-on-one engagements also provide more privacy for consumers.
How can e-commerce brands create a better customer service model through messaging apps like Viber that will impact their retention/customer loyalty?
For brands and vendors looking to improve their customer experience, customer service is a great place to start. Messaging apps allow brands to address shorter and easier customer service questions through chatbots or standard Q&As, as well as develop customer support to address more complex questions through real-time chat interactions with an agent. Messaging apps can also make the experience more personal, both in catering directly to the customer’s needs and because the act of chatting through these apps is familiar, similar to how they would interact with a friend.
Why does this matter? How does Viber change the e-commerce options already out there for brands?
Viber’s approach is message-native, meaning we believe shopping can also be a form of communication. This is especially true when people can shop with friends, which we make easy to do with our keyboard-based model. People already share things with friends often to get feedback or ideas, and now we make it even easier.
How are technologies like chatbots impacting e-commerce?
Chatbots have become a frequent part of the e-commerce shopping experience, and therefore something that customers have come to expect from brands. While as we discussed above, chatbots are only able to get to a certain level of customer service before one needs an agent to step in, they are effective for the customer experience because they’re always available. In the age of instant gratification that we have come to know, having 24/7 customer support of some kind is a must for e-commerce companies. Additionally, chatbots can help brands with the final step of the customer journey—for example, if a customer is trying to decide between two sizes of a product, a chatbot may be able to help them answer their questions and take away any reservations they have about clicking ‘buy’.
What are your predictions for the e-commerce industry for 2020 and beyond?
There are two big new forces that will affect e-commerce: direct to consumer (DTC) brands and new regulatory scrutiny. We’ve already seen major new DTC brands start to eat away at incumbent market share, and that trend will continue. And now the FTC has woken up and is looking at big e-commerce companies with a critical eye around antitrust and monopoly power—all this will create an opening for small and medium-size players to emerge. This is a good thing.
Zeprin is a VP of E-Commerce at Rakuten Viber. His specialties are messaging, product and user-interface design, innovation incubation, team building and leadership, ad platforms, digital health care, big data analytics, self-serve application design, and venture capital.