Facebook Chatbots May Revolutionize the Shopping Experience
Commerce as we knew it only a few short years ago has come and gone, and its newest forms are morphing dynamically. While brick-and-mortar stores still exist, their popularity is undoubtedly waning. Websites have lost ground to a seemingly endless number of mobile apps. However, many industry experts who previously predicted that mobile apps and e-wallets would take pride of place in e-commerce this year may have missed their mark. Interestingly enough, this form of alternative payment may become archaic even before it has the chance to achieve real maturity.
No More Hopscotching Among Channels
Since consumers dislike waiting in lines or hopscotching from one channel to another, messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger are already replacing mobile wallets and web browsers, and seem to be well on their way to becoming the ultimate killer apps for e-commerce. It makes perfect sense because messaging platforms are the epicenter where all the components of e-commerce converge.
Who and What's There?
Potential customers are already there. Consider that Facebook’s Messenger already has 1.9 billion Messenger and WhatsApp users, many of whom are naturally chatty millennials. ComScore notes that in the U.S., the average 18- to 34-year-old spends 30 hours per month on social networking services, and 26 of those are on Facebook.
The data is already there. Facebook offers a rich profile based on users’ clicks, preferences and connections, enabling retailers to tailor their approach to different customers and provide a unique shopping experience.
The infrastructure is already there. Facebook bot apps run in Messenger’s background, so there's no need to download any additional apps. Enterprises don’t need to build, popularize and maintain mobile apps for several phone operating systems. Personalized messaging provides merchants with a way to address potential customers in a more informal and engaging way. The ability to create a permanent thread with customers promises to generate both confidence and loyalty.
Service procurement is already there. There's no need to send emails, call a service department, wait for responses or talk to sales staff. The platform offers interactive bot services, immediate activity and ease of use geared to encourage seamless impulse buys.
Social media is already there. Facebook and its Messenger offering are primarily social media platforms, in which millions of people already share posts multiple times a day. It’s the ultimate site for people to discuss what's happening, talk to friends or relatives, express opinions, review products, or just hang out.
Making the Payment Checkout Module ‘Disappear’
China’s WeChat currently serves as the paradigm on how to keep users permanently engaged on a messaging platform. In WeChat, consumers open accounts and then set up initial payment options that are saved in the system; thus, they have no reason to leave the platform. They can check in for flights, read articles and set up doctor appointments, but they can also buy concert tickets, pay bills, order a taxi and more, all in a single ecosystem. Admittedly, the Chinese were naturally predisposed to use this medium for commerce and other purposes because they first came online through their smartphones and apps. Nevertheless, the Western world is definitely not lagging far behind.
But why stop there? Today’s ultimate messaging apps should be taking this formula a step further by making checkout “disappear” from the shopping experience. Neiman Marcus offers a mobile app that enables shopping assistants to send customers personalized text messages regarding new arrivals or items on sale. These customers can choose an article of clothing based on a photo and complete the purchase simply by sending a text message. The virtual payment is made through the customer’s standing Neiman Marcus account. Presto, the transaction stage has completely disappeared — at least in the front office!
Theoretically, Facebook’s Chatbot should be able to offer checkout-free service as well because it possesses the relevant personal details of all its subscribers. It should also enable customers to order items and complete purchases simply by messaging companies, much as they would communicate with friends. However, some intrepid customers have reported that they had to resubmit all of their payment details prior to making a purchase on the Facebook Messenger bots platform. There was no option to enable payment simply by sending a message. It's not clear if this platform will offer this payment method in the future.
A Brave New World for Payments
Facebook has admitted that there are still some kinks in the system, not the least of which is conversing with the bot itself, which has been known to offer potential customers the wrong items from an unrequested price range. There's also the problem of the platform’s proposed “sponsored messages,” which could annoy some Messenger users. Nevertheless, existing browsing, shopping and payment patterns as we know them may be on their way to extinction. The potential exists for a completely unprecedented paradigm that could eventually eliminate the need for e-commerce websites, mobile apps and checkout modules.
Oren Levy is the CEO of Zooz, a technology company which provides a payment platform for merchants.