Facebook’s Chat App Won’t Be an Overnight Sensation for E-commerce Players

Messenger has sales potential, but it will take time

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Facebook and KLM revealed Wednesday that the airline's customers can get flight confirmation, access boarding passes, receive check-in reminders and view flight status updates via Facebook Messenger. Through April 20, users of KLM's service on Facebook Messenger will have a chance to win two round trip tickets to a destination of their choice.

And according to a Fortune article this week, they may soon be able to buy their tickets via the mobile app. What's more, the magazine's report suggests that Facebook Messenger will eventually allow all kinds of purchases, including when shoppers are walking around inside department stores. No other specifics are available in terms of how such functionalities could work. 

But, Facebook Messenger, with 800 million monthly users, appears to be evolving into much more than just a complementary feature to Facebook's flagship social media platform. So we asked marketers if they believe people will actually buy items within a chat app.

"If people can easily find and purchase products through Messenger that provide less friction than say, Amazon, they'll do it," said Susan Marshall, founder of marketing software company Torchlite. "The problem really is inertia. Most people already have a solution in place that works for them, so Facebook will have to make it more enticing than what most shoppers already have in place for it to really take off."

Joseph Anthony, CEO of millennial marketing agency Hero Group, agreed that it will take time.

"Facebook's challenge will be to turn a communications product into an e-commerce product," Anthony explained. "Facebook must be careful when evolving their user experience on Messenger to introduce e-commerce opportunities without feeling intrusive or infringing on a user's private conversations."

Dave Borean, vp of products at AllSight, added, "The biggest challenge will be in understanding who the user is as a customer so they can be supported in the right context."

The number of locations that accept Facebook Messenger payments could be a major factor, commented Wally Schlaegel, chief product and marketing officer at CataBoom. "People will not use it unless it is widely accepted," he said. 

Multiple people mentioned two developments from 2015 as to why Facebook Messenger holds plenty of promise: Katy Perry's Twitter pop-up shop and Domino's emoji-tweet-based ordering system. A few marketers stated that they believe Facebook's three-month-old initiative of letting consumers order Uber and Lyft rides on Messenger has massive potential.

"Being able to order a product or order a cab will become a natural fit with Facebook," said Amy Edel-Vaughn, social media and content developer of EGC Group.

Anthony of Hero Group said, "Companies like Uber or Lyft are in a prime position to be incorporated in Facebook's messenger platform as they do not require a level of decision-making or an expectation of in-person customer service."

He suggested that Facebook Messenger could challenge Amazon Dash, stating that the social network's messaging app "could be an easy way to re-order frequently used items, whether they be diapers or other household supplies."

Lastly, with chatbots becoming all the rage in the marketing world, Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM, thinks there's a play in the artificial intelligence (AI) space for Facebook Messenger as well.

"Chatbots sound like an interesting and useful tech feature like other AI-driven innovations," Natarelli said. 

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.