Smashbox is going all in for its first chatbot

Smashbox's chatbot launches in UK

While some brands have retreated from chatbots, Estee Lauder-owned cosmetics giant Smashbox has launched its first Messenger bot in what it believes will mark a significant shift in how it connects with shoppers.

Despite the hype around chatbots, Facebook admitted last year that it had seen a “70% failure rate” with those created for its platform, with many brands that had experimented early subsequently pulling out.

It was around this time of disillusionment that Smashbox’s head of e-commerce Sarah Mold employed the help of Manning Gottlieb to design and built what would be its first foray into the technology.

Deciding quickly to avoid a simple extension of its customer service channels, Smashbox has instead created the bot to be a place where users can explore new products, read content around how they can be used, find the nearest store, book appointments with a Smashbox store, and even virtually try products on thanks to an augmented reality function.

Mold said that despite other brands, and customers, cooling on chatbots Smashbox is “in it for the long term”.

“We would love to see conversion but realistically this is an engagement tool for us. When we worked on our metrics for success – even when we were talking to Facebook they told it is was so new, so very hard [to come up with any] – so we’re open to the fact we’ll set benchmarks, and get them completely wrong,” she said.

“It’s really fresh and interesting and we have to be OK with not knowing.”

While direct sales might not be the immediate priority, the retailer is hoping it will deliver better insights into what customers are looking for in the brand.

“We actually don’t know what they want,” Mold admitted. “With this bot we’re going to get all this insight; what kind of looks they want and when. All that information we get will shape our content. And then it will also inform the products we have missing if they’re searching for [something] that we haven’t got.”

She also expects it to shape the wider marketing output for Smashbox. The brand’s content managers is going to be monitoring it closely for a steer on what kind of videos or articles it should be creating for its social and web sites.

“If we keep seeing a lot of queries about a product or look we’ll use that to do an Instagram or YouTube video if clearly there’s a need for the information.”

Mold declined to reveal how much had been invested in it. Alongside Manning Gottlieb, the brand also sough the help of artificial intelligence form IV.AI and ModiFace to work on the conversational and AR features.

“[It’s] the first chatbot incorporating full face augmented reality looks,” said Jennifer Tidy, vice-president of partnerships at ModiFace.

“This this is a game changing combination of messaging interfaces with augmented reality, which will ultimately lead to more engagement for our partners at Smashbox."

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