Yesterday, Facebook announced a new feature within the Messenger app: You can now shop right in the app, via a bot from the shopping site Spring.
During a demo at the F8 conference, a Facebook employee showed quite simply how he bought a pair of sneakers through Messenger.
Find the contact "ShopSpring" and message it the phrase "go shopping." Then answer a few initial questions (Men or women's? Clothes, shoes or accessories? Price range?), and it'll spit out five suggestions for you.
It just so happens I need a new pair of gym sneakers, so this seemed perfect for me to try out.
Little did I know it would entail almost two and a half hours, endless frustration, and near constant shaming by the bot over my budget. You know how when you go to a store, and you're dreading the salesperson will saying, "Can I help you find something?" It's like that, but 10 times worse. Instead of creating a faster and better experience, it was like going into a fancy store and instead of being allowed to browse the racks, a rude and pushy salesperson brought out items one by one to see if you liked them.
Here are the main problems I came across:
1. It couldn't remember my price range in the "see more like this" suggestions.
2. In fact, all the options are pretty expensive — and the bot kept trying to upsell me.
3. The selection was very limited overall.
4. Looking at one item at a time is a really, really, time consuming and annoying way to shop.
This is just purely a time-wasting way to shop for shoes. Show me a page of 100 shoes and I can scan it and pick what I like pretty fast. That is like, part of why online shopping is so convenient!
I couldn't tell if there were better options out there when it was just showing me one shoe at a time, and it's annoying to have to keep telling it "no" when it would serve up something either out of my budget or I just didn't like.
All in it took me about two and a half hours, and I even cheated by eventually just pulling up the ShopSpring website on my computer. It's horrifically inefficient.
5. There are no customer reviews (yet) on the site.
Customer reviews aren't always the best way to judge a product, but they can be really helpful to know if something runs small or large, maybe if it looked different IRL than on the website.
I asked the bot to tell me the customer rating for a pair of sunglasses, and it replied that they don't have reviews yet, but "we hear good things." FROM WHOM, MIGHT I ASK, BOT? FROM WHOM? YOUR BOT FRIENDS?
The bot did editorialize quite a bit — it told me several shoes were "perfect for summer" or "very cool." I do not trust the bot's opinion on what constitutes a perfect summer shoe. Bots do not have feet.
6. It doesn't have your Facebook info saved for checkout.
The ONE supposed advantage to using the bot to shop is seamless checkout. Facebook knows my name, my address, and my credit card info. I thought that since it's tied into Messenger, that would be synced up.
But nope! I had to check out from scratch at the Spring site. It didn't even know my name and email. And everyone knows how annoying entering credit card and address info is on a tiny phone. Ugh.
There is NO advantage to using the bot service through Messenger rather than just browsing the Spring website and checking out through there.
Ultimately, bot shopping could be useful, just not for expensive clothes.
I could see this being great for something simple — I'd be happy to tell Messenger, "I need toothpaste," and get 3 options. Boom. But shopping for expensive(ish) clothing is just not something that is utilitarian in the same way that ordering toilet paper or a Blu-ray is.
Think about how when you walk through a clothing store, you run your hands over shirts you aren't even interested in, just because you want to know how they feel. Fashion ecommerce is already fighting against the inherent lack of the humanity in the shopping experience — not being able to touch the fabric, or try it to see how it actually fits.
The only advantage of online shopping for clothing is the ease and convenience. Fuck up that part, and you've got nothing.
Some people hate to shop. They want to look nice, but hate having to pick out their own clothes and would be grateful to be shown just three options from a trusted store.
This person I would describe as..... someone who works for Facebook.
However, this is NOT the customer who is buying $400 women's shoes. The $400 women's shoes customer most likely enjoys shopping. The same for $400 men's shoes! The kind of shopper who is going to buy the fairly expensive kind of apparel that Spring offers is not the same customer who wants to use a bot that will show them three options. This bot service is just simply not right for the customer that ShopSpring is trying to sell to.
It feels like someone is trying to fix a problem – "the hardest part about online shopping is browsing too many options" – that simply isn't a problem that fashionable Spring customers have.
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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