Click-bots, like-bots, comment-bots, form-bots, mail-bots, spam-bots, vote-bots. Behavioural automation seems to come to Social Media only in business-and-user-hostile flavours, or at least as “black-hat” practices. Anything remotely useful for the customer is met with suspect or downright hostility: automated cross-vendor price-comparison sites, for instance.

This is odd, as businesses have been very fast in understanding how chatter-bots can mean good business as automated online assistants.

Brands think they can get away with half-minded attention to users while demanding full user attention to complete a purchase

For some reason (Tradition? Inertia?), brands presume they can get away with half-minded, semi-automated attention to user requests while at the same time demanding extreme user attention and overabundant user patience during online interaction. (Either this, or most e-commerce website designs just don’t make sense.)

This is stupid. Vendors very rarely have complete, undivided user attention, even when people interact with them in person: humans talk over the phone while placing orders at the restaurant, chat with each other or catch up on Facebook at the supermarket, while away their time or seek real-time peer feedback on Twitter while browsing shops,  or generally mind their own business while also trying to buy stuff.

This is how humans behave regardless of how much technology is available; so, online shops should be designed to account for this, rather than presume people have infinite buying interest and infinite time on their hands.

I am sure you have your personal e-commerce horror story, where after what seemed an endless ordeal you either opted out (and possibly got your purchase from a different vendor) or could complete the transaction only through what Douglas Adams called sheer bloody-mindedness.

Yes, of course better UI/UX design will improve things. When Marketing is not openly or covertly in charge of it, for instance. But that’s not the whole point:

  • there will always be more offers than wecare to check, even when we are definite about the product we want
  • we will always have less time to complete the purchase than online vendors assume
  • we will also be increasingly less tolerant of overselling practices
  • one-click has always been the way to go (not a patentable one though, IMHO)

A buybot is an Internet bot with a mandate (and the ability) to complete a purchase given a set of constraints (including but not limited to price, item type, vendor, delivery times) are met.

I am saying we should be using buybots. Soon. Like, now.

A buybot is an Internet bot with a mandate (and the ability) to complete a purchase given a set of constraints (including but not limited to security, price, item type, vendor, delivery times) are met.

There will be vendor-side ones (marketing will drool at these), and (I sincerely hope) customer-side ones. The latter will be fully customisable and may be unleashed on the net as semi-autonomous agents.

What could a buy-bot do?

  • buy a product at the lowest price currently available
  • wait out a product until its price falls below X, then buy it (ideal for seasonal sales)
  • get that low-cost air ticket when it really costs €9 AND flight date is three weeks later
  • get me [insert vendor name] next top-of the line smartphone/shoes/whatever

I hear you say: dude, you want an alert: the’ve been around for years.

No, “dude”, I do not want an alert. I want a purchase.

I do not want to be distracted from whatever I am doing and put in front of what marketing thinks is a “user-friendly” e-commerce system, inscrutable menu system included. I do not want to choose size, model, delivery, payment again. I specifically do not want to uncheck those darned “we will send you our newsletter full of special offers just for you” or otherwise rough it out through the design’s dark patterns” as if I had nothing better to do all day.

And, as for the “experience” vendors seem so keen to provide, a good buying experience always takes the form “I want it/I get it/it works as advertised” since barter times.

We. Want. To. Buy. What part of it don’t you get?

Hints of (vendor-side) buybots are already visible, of course: things like price-drop alerts on  Amazon; or “follow this item” on eBay, for instance. I have the impression that vendors are not fully aware of the business potential, or they would have offered a buybot along an alert, already. This is really curious because, e.g,  eBay can automatically up my bid by a fixed amount until it reaches my maximum bid. Very similar to a buybot, but that’s just how bids work.

So far, online vendors seem genuinely more interested in my time and attention than in closing a sale. But this is not the early 2000s: these days, multibrand online shops are everywhere. All other things being equal (or even slightly worse), the fastest ones will win over competitors.

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