Online shopping has revolutionized how we think about buying things, but shopping in meatspace still has one distinct advantage: customer service. It’s far easier to walk over to a sales associate and ask your question rather than weave through FAQ pages to find the online store’s contact information. That’s why the Swedish online shop-making platform Tictail has released in-app messaging, called Tictail Talk, so that browsing customers can chat with store owners straight from the app.
Tictail expanded from Europe into the U.S. back in June 2014 as a platform that lets users both build online shops in just a few minutes and browse a volume of shops (hence "the Tumblr for online shops" nickname). The shop offerings are boutique with a European edge, and browsing shops via Tictail’s smartphone app is a crisp catalog of boxed visuals. Tictail’s focus on mobile enables you to build and launch your online store directly from the company's smartphone app. Tictail’s prided itself mostly on its chic design and user-friendliness, but being able to directly chat with shop owners, especially from mobile, is a huge upgrade for digital shopping.
Direct text chatting between customers and proprietors sounds like a simple feature, and it is, but one that vastly improves the customer experience. That access goes two ways: The owner can see a customer digitally browsing the shop and easily chat with them, even offering discounts and special offers on the spot to entice purchases. That messaging functionality can expand to send greetings and discounts to groups of customers—in other words, an in-app newsletter that won’t clog email inboxes. Plus, the in-app customer analytics let you target groups of customers, letting you tailor custom messages to your most loyal customers or give item deals to those who repeatedly buy certain things. Which all makes Tictail Talk sound like a more intimate, personalized experience, something that likely leads to greater engagement.
Shop owners using Tictail Talk can stop worrying about losing a customer’s order history in a mountain of emails. Talk rounds up all the customer/client interaction into a vertical timeline a la Slack, chronologically ordering conversations, deal offerings, and the customer’s purchase history.
Most significantly, Tictail Talk, just like all of Tictail’s features, was designed to work on mobile first. Their mobile focus makes sense given how much business Tictail shops do on mobile.
"On Tictail, over 55% of all our purchases are on mobile devices. It forces us to think about further and better," says Kaj Drobin, CPO and cofounder of Tictail. "Really engaged mobile buyers are spending 40% more than the average Tictail buyer."
Mobile isn’t just a more lucrative sales environment. It’s a market where engagement multiplies business.
"If the consumer engages with the Tictail store, liking or following or contacting the store over email, if they engage with us before making a purchase they’re almost twice as likely to make a repeat purchase," says Drobin. "The feature we wanted to create was about engagement, about how to get the brand and consumer to interact as much as possible, even before making a purchase."
Introducing messaging was the logical choice to drive up that engagement. No other app category competes with the level of engagement that messaging apps have, says Drobin.
But investing in messaging put Tictail on a design tightrope: Make your messaging too similar to other messaging platforms and users will forget they’re chatting inside the Tictail app. Make your messaging too foreign and your app is no longer intuitive. Nobody wants a tutorial on how to text-message inside your particular app. So Tictail went on a little design odyssey to answer the age-old question: How do you set your product feature apart without alienating your users?
Like many of today’s messaging apps—or at least the ones you can actually bring to mind—Tictail ended up going with the familiar bubble box style for Tictail Talk. But that’s not where they started. The early designs messed around with different colors and box styles, striving to emulate the chic design of the main Tictail app. Pretty as it was, the experience was too alienating for new users.
"When we made it look like Tictail too much, it was unfamiliar, and the bump was too big from a UX perspective," says Drobin. "One of the big things we talked about was that if we do this correctly, there should be nothing new to learn for stores and customers. It should feel like a native experience regardless of platform."
In other words, it’s a concession that green-and-blue bubble boxes are the de facto standard for text messaging, and varying has a price. On the other hand, adhering to the standard means customers and shop owners immediately grasp how the feature works, eliminating learning curves and letting Tictail Talk’s use value speak for itself.
But Tictail still wanted its messaging to have some distinguishing features, and eventually the company hit on a point of focus for its creative design energies: cards. Think of the Google Cards that pop up on top of Google image searches. Tictail Talk’s cards visually stand out from regular message bubbles and highlight non-conversation items that are critical to customer-shop owner interactions. After much debate, Tictail decided upon their golden trio of customer-owner info boxes: product orders, discount deals, and images.
"When you buy something it should be in the conversation. You should never have to refer to an order number. It should be right there between you," says Drobin.
Images have been standard in text messages since the dawn of the camera phone, but they are unsurprisingly important for online shops. According to Tictail’s data, the more product images in their stores the more likely it will sell, and there’s a significant rise in sales when going from three to four product images. What if you weren’t limited to the 4+ stock images of the product on a model, but could see the actual product in the store owner’s hands from whichever angle you request?
"If you as a customer see a product you like but you don’t have enough pictures, with Tictail Talk,you can just ask the shop owner to send more images," says Drobin. "That means any angle you really want to see in a product, to understand how the different parts look, it’s super easy now."
Alongside analytics, discounts are one of Tictail’s most popular features for merchants, says Drobin. Active stores use discounts an average of six times per month to generate business, says Drobin, so it was important to make discount cards pop.
Therein lies the more subtle problem: Once they made Tictail Talk distinct from other messaging apps, how does Tictail make each shop’s conversations distinct from each other? After beta testing with some of their shops and iterating on feedback, Tictail built a color algorithm that takes the shop’s color scheme and assigns the cards colors that gel with the shop’s color theme, yet remain distinct from other shops. Thus, cards pop and customers are subtly visually reminded which store they’re talking to.
Tictail is split between a browsing and a shop-owning experience, pleasing shoppers with curated suggestions of similar products and nearby shops while also streamlining the shop-managing experience for small businesses. As relayed in Port magazine, the story goes that in the "kitchen table days" when Tictail cofounders Carl Waldekranz, Drobin, Siavash Ghorbani and Birk Nilson were spitballing how Tictail’s shop creation process should go, they used Waldekranz’s mother as a benchmark. How could they give her the tools to take her quirky porcelain business and make it into an online brand?
Tictail passed the 100,000-store milestone on October 14th, three years after launching in 2012. But look alongside that announcement in Tictail’s blog and you’ll find feature releases are far outnumbered by spotlights on Tictail shops and their owners. So even if Tictail can’t boast Etsy’s 1.3 million individual sellers, Tictail’s closer relationship with its shops speaks to its own way of empowering small businesses.
That includes Tictail reaching out to its community of local sellers and asked them to host simultaneous local meetups for Tictail’s first global meetup day on September 30th. Tictail sellers from 300 brands gathered in 17 cities, from their big markets in Tictail’s home city of Stockholm, New York City, London, and Paris to smaller meetups in Athens, Glasgow, Austin, and Barcelona for meetups and town hall-style discussions on entrepreneurship and building global brands.
That Tictail shop owners gathered at their own urging, especially in the 15 cities where Tictail has no offices, highlights the community they want to build—of shop owners that learn from each other. Tictail’s Talk messaging reflects that urge to build intimacy and connection within the cold confines of digital shopping.
There’s more in the pipeline for Tictail Talk. Soon, customers will be able to track their shipping order straight from the customer order card in their shop conversation. Tictail even plans to let shop owners chat with Tictail customer support right from the app just like Talk lets owners chat with customers. Like many of Tictail’s features that have been quietly released every few months, the next improvements will focus on improving the customer-owner experience, but Talk’s improvements will favor utilitarian upgrades over visual flash.
"Definitely if you ask the designer at Tictail, there’s a hundred things he wants to fix. What are the next cards we can add? How can we make the conversation better?" says Drobin. "We’re probably not going to do more visually, it’s more about the speed of communication. There’s tons of stuff in other places that make Tictail more expressive, but Talk is a very quick way to communicate."