Sealing a deal through social media chat systems is a fairly common practice in Southeast Asia. This practice dates back to the early days of the internet, where social networks and forums were plentiful, but e-commerce websites were few and far between.

Small businesses used social media this way because it’s an easy way to start and requires little investment, but offers the potential to reach millions of customers thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and mobile internet.

However, with the rise of popular e-commerce retailers, most expected social commerce to die out due to being less streamlined and convenient. To everyone’s surprise, social commerce continues to thrive in certain areas. The social element with regards to selling items online still holds huge appeal to many.

Thailand is one such country where social commerce continues to succeed. A study commissioned by PayPal in 2018 found that As many as 95 per cent of merchants in Thailand see social media as a viable business platform. This makes Thailand a rather attractive testing ground for new innovations and social commerce features.

One such feature is the implementation of advanced chatbots into social media marketplaces. These chatbots act as support for in-app payments on messenger interfaces. Chatbots can help streamline the purchasing process, making customers’ social commerce experience smoother.

Chatbots can be very beneficial to SMEs in a multitude of ways. Firstly, they provide automated replies to the frequently asked questions. Secondly, they help with shortening the sales process by providing a way to let the customer order and pay directly in the chat. If a chatbot hits a wall with a request, a human customer relations manager can step in.

Since most customers in Thailand still prefer bank transfers as their preferred method of payment, chatbots would summarise the total price of the order and provide simple payment solutions. For example, chatbots have the ability to capture a screenshot of the payment slip and forward the image to the SME owner who can then verify it.

The largest inhibiting factor for chatbot development in Thailand at the moment is the language barrier. If transactions were done in English, it would be a simple matter. However, the Thai language is far more complex in both grammar and structure. Chatbots must be trained in the nuances of the language in order to feel natural to customers, thus improving the experience.

Today, even social commerce competitors like e-commerce websites and online retailers are beginning to see the value of implementing chatbots into their services. Companies such as Alibaba and Taobao have implemented and continue to develop their own customer service chatbots that can help consumers with choosing their products and answering frequently asked queries.

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