Forget private conversations, chatbots and customer service: Facebook Messenger could soon be delivering retail payments to its 900 million users.
Facebook was in the news at the end of last month when the company announced, at its annual F8 developer’s conference, a slew of new capabilities around the Messenger app. The details that CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared about new features coming to the app suggest strongly that the company plans to launch Messenger as a standalone platform in the near future. In June 2015, the social media titan dropped the requirement to have a Facebook account to use the service, a strong indication the two will become unbundled, so to speak.
The list of items revealed by Zuckerberg amount to a Swiss Army knife of sorts with enhanced chatbot features and an open API that allow for added integrations with brands and frictionless customer interactions, as well as updated encryption strength for newly designated “private” messages. All of these revelations left technology pundits guessing at exactly what direction the social media giant plans to take its messaging service.
Many signs point toward deeper retail integrations. Messenger has been working closely with brands like Uber and Lyft, allowing users to call for rides through the app, and details around the virtual assistant, M, which Facebook says will compete with Apple’s Siri, would open up even more brand integrated services, including travel arrangements and restaurant suggestions.
But there were some things that Zuckerberg didn’t mention, and that’s what’s kept the tech community talking. Every good technology reporter knows the real scoop of any product development hunch lies buried deep within the code, often months before a press release is issued. Technology media company The Information took a good, hard look at the code for the Messenger app to see what it could find.
What did it turn up? Hints that Facebook is looking to add the ability to pay for goods in person at the point of sale and that the development of this payments capability is on the near horizon — expected in the next year or so. Could Facebook be the next big player in the retail payments game? Many thought yes. But then, Zuckerberg made his announcements at F8, and payments were nowhere in sight.
Many dropped the scent but not PYMNTS. Just because Facebook has yet to announce anything in the payments space doesn’t mean you should count it out of the retail payments game. Here’s why.
Although point-of-sale details were not mentioned in Zuckerberg’s reveal at F8, the rest of the features he outlined were, in fact, present and uncovered by TI in the code as well. Not to mention — as Engadget did in its recent coverage of the matter — the last big payments announcement — the ability to send money to friends through Messenger — was also detected in the code months before the feature was announced publicly.
So, perhaps Facebook is treading lightly into the payments space and with good reason: The field has been notoriously treacherous territory for tech firms.
The direction Facebook seems to be headed would put it on the same trajectory as Apple. Facebook would reportedly not only be enabling payments but authorizing and processing those credit card payments as well, which would make them a competitor to the likes of Square and PayPal, according to a Motley Fool story.
All of the payments considerations aside, Facebook has admittedly struggled to do what it does best: get users to adopt one of its tools. And it seems that, in the short term at least, it will remain focused on creating traction among users. The host of new, convenient features is surely a play to attract more users and encourage brands to integrate with Messenger, making it a more essential tool in its users’ mobile/social/retail arsenal.
It’s important to note that saying Messenger has “lacked traction” is certainly relative, as the app’s limited adoption makes it the second-largest messaging app in the world, behind WhatsApp, which Facebook also owns.