I’ve Seen the Future of E-Commerce – Buying Things through Facebook

I’m aware I’m being a little click baity with the title but bear with me. I had an interesting and thought-provoking experience buying something through Facebook I have to share.

A brand I like promoted a new set of products on Facebook. I’ve liked this company’s page and have their app installed (which supports Apple Pay for quick checkout). So they know I’m a fan of their brand and products and that is key to this story. This company recently released some summer items and made sure I saw them via my Facebook feed. I liked what I saw and clicked on the product ad to get more details. What happened next was the interesting bit. I was then taken to FB Messenger where their bot (or a human — I’m not sure which) gave me more details on the product and asked what size I wanted. I made my pick and it then asked me which shipping method I wanted and calculated an invoice. In Messenger, their bot then gave me a direct link to check out via their app which I used, paid with Apple Pay, and was done. The bot I was interacting with on FB Messenger then contacted me with a receipt and tracking number within the next hour. This whole process happened in a matter of minutes and the Messenger bot acted as a concierge while the Apple Pay integration removed all friction for checkout. It was pretty remarkable when all was said and done.

Now, granted, there were a few steps which can be eliminated in the future. For example, Facebook has said they fully intend to support and integrate Apple Pay and Android Pay into their system so people can buy products on Facebook using whatever seamless methods they choose. So, in the future, I can do what I did without having to use the company’s app and do it all through Messenger. What really stood out to me in this experience was how this company was using Facebook Messenger as a conduit for customer service to help convert leads to transactions. We have talked about the conversational interface, conversational commerce, and a host of other buzzwords but this was the first time I experienced it in such a seamless way. More importantly, this felt like something “normal” people would do. I can see my wife doing this and using a company’s agent through Facebook Messenger as a concierge. It was like talking to a person at a store getting what you need to make a decision and then completing the transaction. The Facebook ad made me a captive audience and a qualified lead and the bot via Messenger helped close the deal. Concierge services via a messaging app may be the big missing part of e-commerce. It is interesting that Facebook may actually be sitting in the middle of this reality.

All of this comes on the back of Facebook announcing they have one billion active users on Messenger. I challenge the idea Facebook Messenger is the primary messaging app for the masses but it is certainly one they use in certain ways with their social graph. Regardless, a billion person user base is the strongest reason for companies to start using Messenger in ways I described to engage with consumers, conversationally, to help them with their products or service.

While I certainly don’t think everyone will be comfortable doing this through Facebook for security and privacy reasons, I do think this experience convinced me of the conversational commerce interface via messaging apps. Specifically from a business angle, to capture a potential customer and provide them with relevant customer service through the messaging/conversational interface. This is where bots and AI become interesting because, as e-commerce grows globally, we simply don’t have the scale to have a human help every person with an inquiry via a conversational interface. Bots/AI can become a businesses front line interface to assist customers, complete transactions, and get customer support. This one foundational change may be the thing that moves e-commerce from less than 10% of global retail sales well into the upper double digits.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

7 thoughts on “I’ve Seen the Future of E-Commerce – Buying Things through Facebook”

  1. we simply don’t have the scale to have a human help every person with an inquiry via a conversational interface

    I’m not sure this is the case. Ever since we had TV shopping, we’ve had massive call centres with real human beings dedicated to taking orders. In some cases, these call centres are located overseas or in less populous regions of the country where jobs are generally harder to come by, and wages tend to be lower. These call centres have relatively sophisticated CMS systems so that the can automatically bring up the past purchase history of a customer, based on just the incoming phone number, so that the call operator can customise their message for the person on the line.

    Can bots be as good as the combination of a human armed with a CMS? Can we make the human operators even more productive by giving them a messaging interface to work with instead of a phone line? What would happen if call centres managed to somehow solve the problem of always busy lines?

    My bet is that human operators armed with AI-enabled messaging interfaces (instead of phone lines) linked to advanced CMSes (watch what SalesForce will do) will prevail over the bots.

    1. Even if the human scale problem could be solved it’s not economical. Smart bots are much more economically favorable to burden of human cost.

      Either way we won’t know if we are talking to a human or not and it probably doesn’t matter.

      1. With audio phone calls, an operator can only handle a single customer at a certain time. With chat, I’ve heard that operators can handle 6 customers simultaneously. With intelligently assistive messaging interfaces where operators could choose their response from a set of contextually relevant set of answers, I’m sure that number could exceed 10. All this without having to risk ruining your experience with bots which make customers think they’re human, but bail out when they’re asked a question that’s not in the script.

        If your gross margin per transaction is not too dismal and you value customer experience, I’m sure a hybrid approach will make more sense.

  2. Bots – yes. Via fb? Not likely.

    My best friend took his son to college orientation this past week. During the intro, the speaker asked “How many of you use facebook?” Out of 250 kids in this orientation class aged 17-18, there were 4 hands raised. Fb has already lost the 25 and under demographic, and are losing the up to 40 demographic as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *