In partnership with Nuance Communications, H&M is making its virtual assistant and live chat agents available via Google services like Google Maps and Google Search, Nuance announced on Tuesday.
H&M introduced virtual and live chat with Nuance in 2018 to provide customers with real-time responses to questions about item availability, order tracking status, store locations and hours, and other inquiries, per the press release.
The integration with Google's Business Messages allows H&M customers to chat with the company via a "Message" prompt on Google services like Google Maps and get questions answered that way. The service is initially available in the U.S. only.
As H&M supplies customers virtual assistant and live chat services, the fast-fashion retailer is also moving away from its extensive brick-and-mortar presence in a larger shift toward digital. Last week, the company announced that it will close about 250 physical stores next year as its leases come up for renegotiation. That's just 6% of its footprint, though, and the retailer needs to do more to make its digital shopping experience appealing, according to Sofie Willmott, content head of apparel at GlobalData.
"Both its value appeal and environmentally-friendly reputation, boosted by new initiatives such as the launch of the COS resale platform, sets H&M apart from its competitors but it must enhance its online proposition given the importance of digital channels, to succeed in a very tough market," Willmott said in emailed comments last week.
H&M's use of chat capabilities to help customers with simple inquiries is not unique in the retail space, and may take on more importance during a health crisis that has many consumers avoiding stores. The channel could also serve as a meaningful purchasing avenue soon, with spending via chatbots expected to reach $142 billion by 2024, according to a Juniper Research report.
"With the explosion of digital engagements, especially in the retail sector, we're hearing from customers more about the need to better optimize and handle consumer engagements and service requests across channels," Tony Lorentzen, senior vice president of Intelligent Engagement at Nuance, said in a statement.
H&M's use of Google services to communicate with customers is yet another way the tech giant has been integrating retail into its platform, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Google added search features to connect shoppers with retailers offering curbside and in-store pickup options, and in July, the company unveiled Shoploop, a shoppable content platform that allows users to find, review and buy items.