The end of apps: Conversational commerce begins deadly attack

13 Sep 2016

Messenger is upping its chatbot game to allow in-app purchases of foreign products, encouraging users to stay in the Facebook ecosystem, never having to leave. WeChat is even further down that road. Is this the end of countless, niche apps?

The end of apps is perhaps an overstatement, given Messenger and WeChat are themselves apps. But the migration towards hosting purchases from partner and client companies is happening. And it’s happening fast.

Conversational commerce


Chatbots are the firepower being used by the likes of Messenger, WeChat and many more instant messaging tools aimed at downing the need for numerous, specific shopping and services apps.

Messenger’s latest move to allow hosted purchases –meaning customers stay within the tool while they purchase products from beyond Facebook’s realm – is the latest in a long line of shifts towards an end-point lacking in apps, yet abundant in accessibility.

‘2016 will be the year of conversational commerce, and people will learn to shop in shortcut commands’

The Messenger Platform was launched earlier this year and, through various approaches, Facebook claims 200 countries now host ways for people to engage with businesses without leaving the service.

This could be anything from customer service interactions, to tailored news from what it calls “trusted sources”.

Facebook is currently building capabilities for brands and businesses to be discovered on Messenger. This means when users see an ad in their Facebook feed, and they want to interact with it, a Messenger thread opens allowing them to interact with an outside company, while staying inside the blue-adorned Facebook ecosystem.

Layer upon layers

Messenger Platform v1.2 is now also out, allowing developers to build capabilities that allow businesses to “drive engagement, build retention and facilitate meaningful relationships with people”.

This might all sound like a combination of back-end techie and conceptual vagueness, but for those customers at the front-end it could prove massively significant.

Additional UI to Messenger’s already-growing services means many more engagements can be satisfactorily concluded.

“Moving forward, we are also simplifying the payment and checkout experience in order to reduce the overall friction between wanting something and getting it,” said the company.

“People can use their payment information already stored on Messenger and Facebook to check out faster in Messenger threads.”

Bots for all

An additional element will see the ability to share chatbots with friends so, if you’ve had a decent experience dealing with one in particular (there are tens of thousands in an ever-growing pile), you can point pals in that direction.

The reason Messenger may well profit from this is partly down to how well it integrates these tools, but heavily down to the groundwork already laid by the instant messaging industry to date.

Last year, it was reported that messaging apps had already caught up with social media apps in terms of users. Business Insider found that, put together, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, and Viber had 2.125bn monthly active users globally in Q1 2015. All on mobile.

The same number visited Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, though many in this section use desktop applications.

in-app purchasing Conversational Commerce

Social media vs instant messaging. Image via Business Insider

Social overtaken in an instant

By the end of the year, those numbers saw instant messaging lead. Updating those figures to mid-2016 finds the former now far in front, to the tune of several hundred million.

“There is a major change afoot where people are living in private social networks,” said HubSpot CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan when speaking to recently.

“When I look around at what people at HubSpot are using, I don’t see Facebook or Twitter open as much on people’s screens; they live in Slack, or Messenger or WeChat. There is a big shift happening across the social landscape.”

This is not coming as a surprise to some.

The birth of conversational commerce

“Conversational commerce already happens in various messengers,” said Erik Meijer, heading up Deutsche Telekoms’ group innovation business.

Speaking to at TM Forum’s recent smart city conference, he said, “We are in China right now, look at WeChat as an example.

“There are 10 to 12 services included on that. You can get tiny loans of $20,000 within your messenger. You can talk to a local store. You can pay for something on”

Well over 600m WeChat users are all cutting out the various apps of old, Meijer claimed.

While China is at the forefront of this change, and the likely leader in future, it’s happening everywhere.

With Snapchat allowing users transfer money across its Snapcash tool is just one example. Additionally, popular mobile operating systems provide information from within via Siri, Google Now. This ‘conversational commerce’ model is perhaps better armed to dominate far earlier than originally thought.

The year of change

“2016 will be the year of conversational commerce,” claims Chris Messina, Uber’s developer experience lead.

More interestingly, users seeking to purchase through these channels will start communicating in less conversational ways.

“People will learn to type commands into messaging apps in the future, hinting at the importance of Slack’s standardisation of Slash commands,” Messina wrote in a Medium post at the start of the year.

While some interactions are better in a conversational format (customer care), and some are better suited to a permanent thread (receipts, shipping notifications and flight updates), others could be better with a tailored UI.

All of this can be done within one instant messaging tool. With Messenger making moves, and WeChat leading the way, it might prove a fast, industry-changing revolution.

Main Jolly Roger app image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic