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Pay by Bot: Facebook Messenger Moving from Chat to Commerce

A new Facebook patent application sees chatbots moving from a customer service tool to a central component in next-gen commerce.

A patent filed by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social firm proposes a system in which its popular Facebook Messenger platform marries communication with commerce, elevating the automated chatbot service to handle customer orders and payments. It plays into the conversational commerce movement centered around messaging and chat apps that facilitate brand interactions with consumers. As of September last year, more than 1.3 billion users were active on the Facebook Messenger platform.

By way of illustration, the application uses the example of customer messaging a nearby coffee shop to order a latte. Leveraging natural language processing techniques, the bot understands via the context of the conversation that the customer wants a latte made with 2 percent milk versus skim, and confirms the price to the shopper. Next, the bot queries the customer on how to pay for the purchase, and executes payment with stored credit or debit card information, confirming the final four digits of the card in question and providing an estimate for when the beverage will be ready for pickup.

Facebook’s patent makes the whole process seem pretty seamless and it signals the firm’s ambition to play a larger role in social commerce, which its Instagram brand currently dominates. According to the application, the all-in-one chatbot ordering and payment service would eliminate the friction of having to open a separate app to execute payment.

More than 80 million small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) rely on Facebook to reach valuable customers. The firm’s significant Messenger investments seek to position the platform as an indispensable customer-service tool that can automate many common customer needs. With a payment-handling upgrade, Messenger could become a useful customer acquisition tool, tempting new customers with convenience and enabling discovery of nearby businesses.

Facebook already enables peer-to-peer payments across its network, enabling friends and other connected parties to send and receive money.