*Accuracy not guaranteed

I recently wrote a post titled, The Next Great Opportunities in Mobile Commerce, where I discussed the emergence of four types of commerce:

  • Interest-driven Commerce
  • Socially-driven Commerce
  • Experience-driven Commerce
  • Media-driven Commerce

Each of these new commerce opportunities are propelled by the ubiquity of smartphones and availability of 4G speeds (and soon 5G) from Oakland to New Delhi. Smartphone usage has created new consumer behaviors that can’t and won’t be bound by the norms created during the desktop internet era. We experience much of the world and our reality (for better or worse) through a mobile screen. It only makes sense that these new consumer behaviors will affect how, where and why we conduct commerce and our expectations of those transactions — from discovery to purchase.

Below is the first of several predictions for mobile commerce in 2017 that I think will take place and redefine how we view commerce and how it is influenced. The first prediction is that conversational commerce will finally take off in a major way. I have been bearish on conversational commerce in the past, with good reason. I’ve come around on conversational commerce due to that fact that we’ve reached a turning point. Most developers are finally realizing the challenges of slapping a text-based workflow on any and every use case.

Conversational Commerce Will Take Off, But Not How You Think

Though 2016 has been heralded as the year of conversational commerce (aka #convcomm), to say it hasn’t taken off would be an understatement. Highly-touted, most conversational bots that launched on the Facebook Messenger platform failed to live up to the hype for a variety of reasons, most famously a misunderstanding of why WeChat (oft-cited example of #convcomm success) took off in China:

This miscalculation has slowed the development of commerce platforms such as Facebook Messenger, but there are signs that developers and startups are starting to figure out how to leverage a chat thread to engage in commerce.

Push Notifications are the New Black

One of the best examples is Hopper, a mobile-only flight booking app, which engages in conversational commerce via push notification (novel idea, right?). Hopper CEO Frederic Lalonde says, “Hopper is engaged in a form of ‘conversational commerce’ as it ‘talks’, or interacts with users through push notifications, four times weekly on average to build a ‘deep trust’ with a flight ticket as a byproduct.” Users opt-in to relationship with Hopper, which then proceeds to provide real value to its users without the need for a back-and-forth conversation with a chatbot that may or may not be able to handle their queries. This is the Hopper conversational commerce workflow in a nutshell:

  1. Push notification via Hopper app.
  2. Accept or deny flight offer.
  3. Get on with your life.

The less layers or steps in a commerce UI/UX, the better.

Another great example of conversational commerce done right is ReplyYes. ReplyYes engages its users via SMS, wherein users can accept push notifications about products they maybe interested in. Much like Hopper’s user experience, ReplyYes users can either accept or deny the opportunity to purchase a ReplyYes product and get on with their day. ReplyYes started with vinyl records and quickly moved into graphic novels, both product categories with rabid, niche fanbases on the lookout for new content. This type of use case lends itself to many product categories, niche and mainstream alike.

As you can see, there is a pattern emerging here. The most promising early conversational commerce use cases will center around around four factors:

  1. An opt-in only user experience.
  2. Geared toward a user with a deep loyalty to a particular brand or product category.
  3. Push notifications as the active mode of engagement and re-engagement.
  4. 1–3 taps to accept or deny purchase offer.

This is a simple, yet powerful user experience that is primed to break out due to its high-level of trust, high touch, low friction and low costs to both users and brands/businesses.

Where does this leave Facebook Messenger?

Though Facebook is still dedicated to ironing out the bot kinks in its Messenger commerce experience, there are signs that the company is very open to push notifications being a major conversational commerce engagement tool on the platform. If Facebook were to introduce ReplyYes-like functionality for the brands on Messenger and convince developers to build experiences using it, conversational commerce could really take off in a meaningful way on the platform.

To understand potential of this opportunity, see below a condensed version of a recent Twitter conversation with Dan Grover (product manager at Facebook, formerly at WeChat), Shane Mac (CEO of Assist), Chris Messina (Uber Dev Experience lead) and myself:



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