Facebook is pushing the idea of “conversational commerce” hard

everlane

 

In what will come as little of a surprise, Facebook is backing the idea of consumers being able to shop directly through messaging apps.

Speaking at Retail Week Live, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said shoppers will be able to increasingly contact retailers and brands directly through Facebook Messenger, and use that conversation to order products instead of leaving to go to a website.

She referred to this as the next big digital retail trend, according to Drapers, and highlighted that 800 million people worldwide now use Facebook messenger and one billion use [Facebook-owned] WhatsApp.

“Six out of the top 10 apps in the world are messenger apps and it will not be long until brands are integrated into that space,” she added.

Indeed, stats released last year by Business Insider show that four of the biggest messaging apps have now met (and no doubt since overtaken) the number of people using the four biggest social media platforms.

 

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It’s on that basis Facebook Messenger is believed to be heavily following in the footsteps of its Chinese counterpart WeChat and aiming to become more than just a place for conversation, but for everything from banking, to travel, customer service, and yes, shopping.

It released its business offering on the platform in the US in 2015, with the likes of Everlane as launch partner.

Everlane shoppers can now receive updates about their order via FB Messenger rather than just email. For those wanting to, they can just leave it at that. For those more inclined, they can use the app to then spark up a conversation with the customer service rep on the other end of it. Given payment details are then stored, they can order anything they like through that discussion, but better yet, also receive personalised recommendations and the such like given their history is stored in that one app.

“It is instant communication and a different type of commerce. It allows shoppers to shop whenever they like,” said Mendelsohn.

At this point for Everlane, it’s reportedly still a human at the other end beyond those initial shipping updates, by the way. But the bigger part of this conversational commerce trend – a term first coined by Chris Messina, developer experience lead at Uber, in a must-read blogpost earlier this year – will be the role bots play to automate much more of that back and forth.

This is something WeChat is already heavily invested in, and others including Kik, Slack and Telegram all too. It’s also a step Facebook is rumoured to be announcing at its next developer conference in April.

As Messina wrote: “Computer-driven bots will become more human-feeling, to the point where the user can’t detect the difference, and will interact with either human agent or computer bot in roughly the same interaction paradigm.”