In April 2016, Facebook announced the launch of its 'Chat Bot Platform' which enables developers to create Artificial Intelligence 'chat bots' to simulate human conversation with users. One such chat bot has been created by Spring, an online shopping portal, to connect consumers to over 900 brands through a robotic personal shopper.

The Spring chat bot is accessible through Facebook's messaging app. On initiating a conversation with the bot, the customer is asked five multiple choice questions about the type of garment they are looking for, including their gender and budget. The bot then follows up, almost instantaneously, with five suggested items which can be purchased immediately by simply clicking to redirect to Spring's online store. Over time, and with increased use, the bot will study the shopper's purchase history and learn their preferences in order to tailor its offerings to personal wants and needs.

The bot system is intended to facilitate the online shopping experience by minimising the time customers spend trawling through multiple online stores, websites and apps, and by assisting the product comparison process (thereby also increasing competition amongst retailers). The option for immediate interaction with these virtual consultant bots is also expected to minimise retail costs spent on manned telephone and email helplines.

With the introduction of these personalised e-concierge bots into the Facebook Messenger app, which has a reported 700 million monthly active users, the exposure that the software may bring to brands, and the impact it may have on e-commerce generally, promises to be quite significant!

Amongst other legal regulation, online retailers operating websites in the EU need to comply with a whole host of rules contained in (i) the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013; (ii) the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014; (iii) the Consumer Rights Act 2015; (iv) the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002; and, (v) the Data Protection Act 1998. Our Retail team would be delighted to help you make sense of all this, should you have a website in the EU and have any questions about compliance.