Live chat has surpassed phone and email as the most popular way for millennial consumers to interact with retailers, a new study states.
According to a report released by customer engagement software and services provider  7, 28.9% of consumers prefer to interact with retailers through online chat (25.85) or messaging apps (3.1%) while making a purchase. This is driven primarily by millennial shoppers embracing new technology such as chatbots and messaging apps.
Together, these chat tools are now more popular than phone conversations (28.7%) and email (27%) as the preferred method of interaction.
Based on a survey of more than 1,000 consumers, the study highlights the important role that millennials are playing in this shift. Among consumers ages 18 to 34, more than a third (37%) of respondents chose live chat as their favourite way to contact companies, while less than a quarter ranked phone or email as their top choice.
As millennial consumers increasingly use more messaging apps in their personal lives, the study suggests chat is emerging as a primary communication channel for retailers as well.
“Messaging apps are incredibly valuable for retailers looking to enhance relationships with consumers, particularly millennials,” comments Scott Horn, chief marketing officer for 7. “With chat technology rapidly evolving, it’s becoming a much more efficient and engaging customer-service channel.”
More than a quarter of consumers surveyed (26%) said they’re open to interacting with a company through a messaging app like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, and the number jumps to 39% for millennials.
The benefits to interacting with retailers through a messaging app or live online chat tool is the convenience and easy use, the study says. It also enables customers to easily see the conversation history. Respondents also say they feel it would be useful to receive online order updates through a messaging app.
However, despite one in 10 millennials revealing they would prefer to always interact with a robot instead of a human while talking to a retailer, two-thirds of consumers (62%) prefer to discuss purchases with a person.
While the study highlights a willingness among consumers to adopt new channels such as messaging apps and chatbots, these are only effective when human interaction remains easily accessible when needed.
“The most effective uses of this technology will provide effortless transitions to human agents for unique or complex scenarios,” Horn adds. “Consumers still value a human touch in their interactions with retailers, even as AI improves their customer experience.”