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Bots are a great way for holiday shoppers to check off items from their wish lists while avoiding crowded stores and endless hold times on the phone. Bots are also a fantastic tool for the organizations that use them. But they might not be ready to help you find that perfect gift (yet).

Shoppers can use bots as part of their strategy to find this year’s best Christmas deals, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Internet bots execute routine online tasks, usually those either so tedious that they would bore human workers half to death, or on such a massive scale that people couldn’t finish the job within their lifetime. But like people, bots learn -- and some even have personalities.

“Many bots are programmed to act like humans when you talk to them,” as CNET noted, “so it feels like asking a person for help instead of just typing in a search engine.”

Made in Your Image

U.S. cosmetics maker CoverGirl is targeting teens with a chatbot created in the image -- and diction -- of a fellow teen: American television personality Kalani Hilliker. In true machine-learning form, KalaniBot takes cues from how Hilliker communicates on social media in order to interact with customers in a similar fashion.

The business benefit for CoverGirl?

“The bot’s detailed analytics deliver feedback on engagement levels,” AdAge stated last week, “providing reporting metrics across average conversation length; sentiment analysis; semantic analysis; branded messages; bot mentions; response rate; and purchase links.”

In short, bots offer a trove of data and insight, which is information that organizations can’t get when shoppers interact with human associates. And that’s a big reason online shoppers are starting to see bots now -- and why we can expect to see more bots while shopping next Christmas season.

“Bots represent an opportunity for the industry to close the conversion loop by tracking clicks to purchases,” Justin Rezvani, founder and CEO of KalaniBot co-creator theAmplify, told AdAge. “This means more transparency and accountability for how well your strategies and content perform.”

Your Virtual Shopping Buddy

Bots could improve the customer experience, especially for younger shoppers who would not to ring a vendor’s 800 number. One software solution can accomplish its missions more consistently than multiple call center operators,* according to The Drum.

“Bots live within chat, which is a highly social environment where friends talk and share,” The Drum stated last week. “[So] it’s not too much of a stretch to think about consumers eventually asking bots what to buy their friends.”

Asking a bot to help you shop for others usually involves answering conversational questions, rather than a battery of multiple-choice queries, as a reporter recently discovered when trying to find a Christmas gift for his brother. The bot asked Tyler Woods about his brother’s age, occupation and other standard questions before delving into more specifics, such as passions and hobbies.

“I replied that he likes sports and politics and works in healthcare; that he dresses well and runs and seems ambitious,” Woods wrote last week. “I didn’t put in that he can be a troll on Twitter and IRL, but I could have.”

Bots offer something for everyone, including shoppers, retailers and their workers.

Ready for Prime Time?

A bunch of retailers already offer chatbots to help you shop for flowers and apparel this holiday season, as The Drum noted. But your experience might not always be flawless, as technology reporter Chris Griffith discovered while searching for green socks with the help of a bot.

“It launched a Web page ... offering to sell a $15 U-Lock bike lock,” Griffith stated in The Australian last month. “Some coding still needs to be done!”

So while we wait for retailers to sort out the bugs, shoppers can use bots as part of their strategy to find this year’s best Christmas deals, according to WSJ Personal Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler. He recommends bots that offer price history and price alerts for specific products.

“Saving money is all about timing,” Fowler said in The Wall Street Journal last month. “And a few good bots will help you know when to strike.”

Happy Hunting

Part of knowing when to strike is knowing which bots to trust. They aren’t perfect, but their potential to offer easy shopping for customers -- and real-time insights for retailers -- is too great to pass up.

Many bots already deliver a happy bargain hunting experience to shoppers this year. And this technology promises many more bots -- and an even better customer experience -- next year.

Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher

*This technology might free those call center operators to take on more complex tasks. It could even free the business to grow in new ways, as I’ve noted before.

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