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Shopify’s plan to let 400,000 merchants run their business via Alexa and bots

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Shopify wants its 400,000 merchants to be able to run their business almost entirely through the use of bots or voice apps like Alexa.

Speaking exclusively with VentureBeat, Shopify product director Brandon Chu said steps being taken to improve its Alexa skill continue a conversational computing strategy that has been carried out by the ecommerce platform for more than a year.

“Ultimately, any type of information merchants need to make decisions about their businesses, we want our Alexa skill to be able to serve, and then any types of actual operations they want to make on their store, we envision that they should be able to do it in voice as well,” Chu told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

The ability to run a business through a conversational interface at Shopify began with Kit, a text-based marketing virtual assistant Shopify acquired in April 2016 a day after the launch of the Facebook Messenger platform. At F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, Shopify announced plans to launch a Facebook Messenger bot, the first commerce platform to do so.

Through conversations on Facebook Messenger or SMS, Kit can do things like place a Facebook ad or start an email marketing campaign.

The development roadmaps of voice apps like the Shopify Alexa skill and text bots like Kit will begin to converge, Chu said, so that the same merchant analytics available today by voice will become available in a text interface, and the same actions to run your business available today through text will someday be available with your voice.

The Shopify Alexa skill first became available in January, but was launched with no marketing or promotion in order listen to the queries put forward by merchants to better understand the kinds of questions they want the skill to be able to answer.

Before merchants are given the ability to run business operations in a conversational interface, a few other features will be added first, Chu said.

Based on merchant feedback, more long-term business performance insights are also on the way, and work will continue with NLP engineers to ensure the bot can handle the range of questions a merchant has and understands the variety of ways a merchant may ask a question.

“We have a vision of really simplifying the way a merchant starts their day like getting up, having a cup of coffee and just being able to ask: What is the context I need to know to start my day off well, and how many orders do I need to fulfill right now? What are those products, and how many sales did I have the day before?” he said.

Chu declined to share specifics but said as part of its conversational computing strategy, the company will consider the launch of services on other text or voice bot platforms such as a Google Assistant action or Cortana skill.

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