After 13 years in business, hair-care brand Amika, which is primarily found in professional salons and Sephora, was ready to invest in its website.

The brand already had a live chat function on its website, but it mainly served as a way for customers to ask about an order. It lacked a sense of personalization and the capability to offer product recommendations, so Amika added a chatbot feature to the customer shopping experience to gather more data about customers and also boost e-commerce sales. While retail stores either remain closed or have had to re-close (as is the case for stores in Los Angeles), replicating the in-store discovery experience has become key to making the brand’s direct-to-consumer channel a success.

“Live chat was more customer service-based [post-sale] than it was a sales or promotional opportunity,” said Robbi Webb, Amika senior director of e-commerce. “[For example] when we’re talking to a customer directly, or even when they’re on our website, we often don’t know what their motivation is for shopping with us. We’re still a small company and still up-and-coming;  [we] don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tech investment.”

Amika began working with chatbot marketing company Automat in January, which afforded the brand the ability to offer 24/7 personalized shopping opportunities to customers. The bot, called Ace, is accessible in several places on the e-commerce site, including in the lower right corner of the homepage and in a banner photo at the top of all pages. Ace asks customers approximately 15 questions about their hair type, the products they’re looking for and their hair goals, while also offering the opportunity to sign up for Amika’s newsletter to receive a 15% off coupon. After customers complete the questionnaire, Ace recommends between two and five products.

“This conversational technology has almost always been used for [replacing human] customer service, which most people don’t like,” said Andy Mauro, Automat CEO and co-founder. “But for somebody in their shopping journey, a chatbot is giving them something that they were not expecting.”

Within the beauty industry, the onset of coronavirus in March quickly exposed brands who had not invested in their own e-commerce. Brands like Dior quickly added virtual reality to its e-commerce in April, while MAC Cosmetics added augmented reality in May. In many ways, the prioritization of the in-store experiences over the last five years meant any digital e-commerce investments were to supplement stores rather than rival them. But beauty brands with richer digital experiences that can match the in-store experience (or those that are DTC-only, in the case of brands like Glossier and Il Makiage) have faired better. In the long term, industry insiders predict a shift in omnichannel, with e-commerce becoming a more important priority.

Webb said the quiz has a 57% completion rate, and because Amika does not have any other survey tools on its website, it is gaining valuable insight into what current and new customers are looking for and what needs they have. Amika is using this information for ad targeting and email capture, and then personalized email marketing. Over 22,000 people have completed the quiz, accounting for about 15% of Amika’s web traffic. The average percentage of web traffic that engages with a brand’s chatbot was about 3% pre-coronavirus and is 6% amid coronavirus, said Mauro. Webb declined to say what percentage of Amika’s revenue is DTC versus retail and salons. Mauro explained that Automat prices its technology based on sales uplift, and that the price is locked-in after a three-month trial period.

Through the chatbot, Amika has seen sales conversion rates increase, on average, by 300%, but the conversion rate spiked to 800% when Amika ran a flash sale in May. Additionally, quiz takers spend at least four times longer on the e-commerce site, and the average basket size of those customers is at least 70% larger than non-quiz takers, though Webb declined to specify further. The chatbot has not had an impact on cart abandonment, she said.

Moving forward, Webb said that Amika is looking to create a custom landing page by the end of August that focuses on the chat specifically for customers who are coming to Amika through search, paid ads and unpaid social posts. This will allow Amika to gather customer information from the get-go rather than wait for them to seek out the Ace chatbot, said Webb.