Facebook Looks to Add Shopping to Messenger but It Won't Look Like Amazon

Updated from Mar. 11 to include additional reports from The Information.

Since Facebook (FB) spun out Messenger as a standalone app, the company has been continuously expanding on its capabilities, and one of the many features being built into the app includes the ability to transact.

But don't expect Messenger e-commerce to look like any of the social networks' trendy Buy Buttons.

"I really see Messenger as a new type of medium when it comes to commerce," said Yoram Wurmser, an analyst at Forrester. "I very much think that Facebook is going to avoid slapping on a buy button. It's a different experience --much more conversational."

According to TechCrunch sources, Facebook is developing a software development kit -- also known as an SDK, these are tools to help developers build applications for a specific platform -- that would let retailers build bots to interact with Messenger users and enable shopping. Essentially, retailers will be able to create their own version of M, Messenger's digital assistant.

Plus, The Information discovered hints about other commerce features within Messenger's code. One feature that has yet to be released would allow users to make purchases in physical stores using Messenger, similar to Apple (AAPL) Pay or Google's (GOOG) (GOOGL) Android Pay.

The code also included a feature that would surface "suggested businesses" that users could click on to chat with. One could easily see this becoming an area where retailers could pay to be promoted, similar to being promoted on the News Feed.

Facebook declined to comment on both reports. But given Messenger's history, these updates don't seem unrealistic.

A little under a year ago, Facebook started testing business applications through Messenger that let retailers such as Everlane and Zulily chat with customers through the app. While they haven't been able to actually process transactions yet, retailers like Everlane and Zulily use Messenger to send receipts and shipping updates to customers.

Since then, Facebook has added a number of other capabilities to Messenger, including M. It has also partnered with Uber to allow Messenger users to order an Uber directly through Messenger, and this week added Lyft as well.

Plus Facebook has already been adding e-commerce functionality to its core product with various features such as adding inventory on Pages, and integrating Buy Buttons in ads.

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Messenger would make sense as a complementary area for Facebook's e-commerce efforts. Instead of retailers promoting products through ads or sponsored posts, though, Messenger users would be able to take control in the equation and seek out conversations with a retailer. So a customer may message a company asking if they have any little black dresses, and then the company could respond with various options and then actually process a transaction within Messenger.

"They're going to avoid spamming customers with unsolicited messages from companies," Wurmser said. "They're going to have Messenger be a place where people can converse with companies."

Because of the valuable audience of millennials on Facebook and Messenger, retailers will flock to the chat app when it has this e-commerce chatbot functionality, said Scot Wingo, executive chairman of Channeladvisor, which helps merchants sell on marketplaces like Amazon.

"They're interested in anything that can help them grow and get to millennials," Wingo said. "Consumers are going to want to be more and more direct with their brand. They need to get ready."

This sort of chatcommerce functionality is already extremely popular in Asia with apps like WeChat and Line where it's completely normal for consumers to make purchases on the chat platforms; perhaps Facebook will be the one to carry that over to the U.S.

But, warns Wurmser, Messenger isn't going to be competing against traditional e-commerce players here.

"It's not going to be a competitor to Amazon or eBay," he said. "It's going to look a lot different than other channels do. It could become a valuable tool for retailers, a way for them to interact and engage with customers and sell to them."

Even without breaking into Amazon and eBay's domain though, Facebook stands to benefit greatly.

"Innovative offerings by Facebook through its Messenger platform help not only brands, but also Facebook itself to build a stickier engagement with its users resulting in a better monetization of their membership," said Mike Rowland, director in West Monroe Partners' Customer Experience practice. "Facebook Messenger e-commerce has the ability to increase both brand and user engagement."

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