The past few months have seen a flood of activity around chatbots, with FacebookGoogle and Microsoft announcing major initiatives and investments in this area. Since chatbots have implications for retailers, we thought the time was right to offer our point of view from the vantage point of being at the helm of retailers’ channel unification journey.

First off, chatbots are not new. Back in 2000, a company called ActiveBuddy developed an intelligent chatbot called SmarterChild,that brought some natural language comprehension functionality to one of the most popular instant messaging platforms of the dotcom era – AOL. Our bot history goes back even further, to the 1960s, with MIT’s artificially intelligent therapist use case – ELIZA. This program would provide human-like interaction using pattern matching techniques via a text interface.

New and emerging applications reveal the good, the bad and the ugly side of this new trend. Automated Bots, in general, have earned a bad reputation, especially when a bot is used to automate a repetitive online interaction and for nefarious purposes: snuffing out conversation by overwhelming a legitimate online discussion with bot-generated posts; DDoS attacks, viruses, website scrapers, and more. However, chat bots are different – there are legitimate applications of chatbots of which retailers need to aware.

Clearly, there is a case here for the ultimate mashup between chat and curated commerce. With the maturing of Predictive Intelligence within the realm of digital commerce, early success stories within commerce seem to be in the curated commerce area. This is in addition to customer relationship scenarios being experimented with currently – order confirmation, shipping notification and any related customer service use cases.

Early indicators lead me to believe that this is not a flash in the pan. The technology aspects of this trend aren’t new, either., a directory of all chatbots, lists hundreds of chatbots and virtual assistants developed for commercial and non-commercial uses. Now that the GAFA companies have gotten behind this trend, expect interesting developments in the not too distant future.

At this week’s F8 Conference, Facebook announced a new API for its Messenger service, enabling brands to communicate with customers via bots, raising the specter of automated “conversational commerce.”

As noted in the Facebook announcement, shopping bots are still in the early stages. However, in the not-too-distance future, they just might help you discover your favorite piece of clothing that you never new existed.