Mobile Commerce

Facebook Messenger Hits 800 Million Mark

Facebook Messenger, which officially joined the payments ecosystem in March 2015 when it added P2P payments, has reached another milestone: 800 active million users.

That means, in theory, that there are 800 million users who could use Facebook as a P2P payment method. Facebook announced in July of 2015 that number had surpassed 700 million. These details were released Thursday (Jan. 7) in a message from David Marcus, Facebook’s Messaging VP, who came from PayPal.

In his note, Marcus gives some insight as to what’s next for messenger, which explained that “these are still the early days of Messenger.”

So what will 2016 bring for Messenger? To start, making video voice calls without needing to know someone’s phone number. This goes along with Facebook’s goal that came when it broke apart Messenger into its own separate app: “You don’t need to have a Facebook account to use Messenger anymore, and it’s also a cross platform experience – so you can pick up where you left off whether you’re on a desktop computer, a tablet, or your phone.”

Marcus also touched on Facebook’s foray into the business side of things, including how Facebook acts as a vessel for consumers interacting with businesses, and vice versa.

“At Messenger we’re thinking about how we can help you interact with businesses or services to buy items, order rides, purchase airline tickets, and talk to customer service,” Marcus wrote.

What Facebook’s tests with businesses have shown, he explained, is that interactions are happening with businesses more and more on Messenger. The social network’s 2016 goals are to continue that mission and make it more seamless for consumers to interact and buy from businesses.

And then there’s Facebook’s most recent launch, the test of M, its digital virtual assistant. What Marcus revealed about that test is that it’s also in the early stages, but eventually can be used for everyday tasks including “booking a restaurant, sending flowers and making plans.”

What Marcus’ note to the Facebook community shows is that 2016 is likely the year Facebook shows its payments and commerce hands just a bit more — demonstrating another manner in which Facebook plans to monetize the service.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shared some of this in the past few earnings calls, hinting at why Facebook has put so much stock the small business side.

“The long-term bet is that by enabling people to have good organic interactions with businesses, that will end up being a massive multiplier of the value of monetization down the road when we work on that and really focus on that in a bigger way down the road,” Zuckerberg said in July.

In an interview with Wired in July, Marcus shared his thoughts on the importance of Messenger for Facebook.

“The messaging era is definitely now,” Marcus said in the interview. “It’s the one thing people do more than anything else on their phone … I believe that messaging is the next big platform. In terms of time spent, attention, retention, this is where it’s happening. And it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build it.”

As Marcus explained, Messenger is about both adapting to human behavior but also influencing how those humans — AKA consumers — interact with one another and interact with businesses. Which is no different than the mobile payments game: changing how consumers think about payments and think about paying merchants — whether it be online or off.

And as we’ve all seen from the data about mobile payments (re: Apple Pay), changing consumers habits from a swipe to a tap (and to a dip) isn’t easy; payments isn’t a problem, at least in the physical store, that consumers feel they have. All bets are off, though, in-app and via mobile. The question is whether Messenger can be the catalyst to solve a commerce problem for the consumers and the merchants it loves.

Connecting consumers to commerce opportunities, Marcus believes, is the first step in enabling that innovation for Facebook through Messenger. Making it easier for people to send money to a friend, to book a table at a restaurant or to book an airline ticket changes the end-to-end commerce experience that may get consumers over the hump.

“Once you interact with a business, you open a thread that will stay forever. You never lose context, and the business never loses context about who you are and your past purchases. It removes all the friction,” Marcus said, explaining how Facebook will be doing just that via deals like its airline partnership with KLM.

Regardless of its payments ambitions, Marcus said that Facebook doesn’t want to build a payments business. Instead, it’s about building a “frictionless payment experience when people are in the threads.” This means enabling payments without being a payments company.

That’s the concept of Facebook Messenger’s recent tie-up with Uber to enable users to order and pay for an Uber via Messenger (which is all powered by Braintree’s tokenized payments service).

“We want the maximum number of transactions on the platform, while enabling the best possible mobile experience for commerce. The margins on payments aren’t that high, and we want the broadest reach. Businesses will want to pay to be featured or promoted, which is a bigger opportunity for us,” Marcus said in the Wired interview.

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