“We are in the ‘let many flowers bloom’ phase.”
The drive to make “conversational commerce” a true option in the consumer experience is starting to take shape.
Conversational commerce is a new avenue for brands, retailers and companies to engage with customers through bots and voice assistants, driven by simple artificial intelligence. An example is the ability to talk to a bot in Facebook Messenger and order a sandwich, buy groceries or a gift card.
Mastercard announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Jose that it has partnered with three merchants to make buying things through bots much easier with its Masterpass digital wallet. Mastercard is integrating Masterpass in Messenger bots for grocery delivery startup FreshDirect, for gift card purchases at chain restaurant The Cheesecake Factory and for sandwich order at Subway.
“The Mastercard vision is to support all forms of commerce – addressing the full range of merchant experiences and consumer needs, and ensuring that every one of our accounts is as digital as the people using them,” said Garry Lyons, chief innovation officer of Mastercard, in a press release.
The Masterpass integration into these three bots is a proof-of-concept of the Masterpass Chatbot API that Mastercard released into its Mastercard Developers platform earlier this year.
“This is a new initiative in the quest to enhance the guest experience,” said Carman Wenkoff, chief innovation and digital officer at Subway, in a press release. “Our bot for Messenger, deployed in more than 26,500 U.S. Subway restaurants, is the largest deployment of a Messenger bot in the restaurant industry. We’re proud to offer our guests an innovative new way to order and pay outside the restaurants.”
The Coming Era Of Bot Commerce?
The notion of conversational commerce began in 2016 when Facebook officially announced its Messenger Bots program with simple artificial intelligence tools for natural text understanding on the back end of a bot.
Until this point, bot-based conversational commerce has been a tech industry buzzword that has seen few tangible successes. Some entrepreneurs have had some mild dalliances in the bot commerce space, but the industry is still in “wait-and-see” mode to see if consumers will respond to bots as a means of purchasing goods such as food, apparel, plane tickets or hotels.
For Mastercard, the idea is to be able to support any and all kinds of commerce and enable payments for any channel that a consumer might choose.
“What we are announcing at F8 is three commercial bots, extending what we did as a proof of concept into the commercial realm,” said James Anderson, executive vice president of digital payment products at Mastercard, in an interview with ARC. “We think that this is an interface for commerce that certainly has legs and potential. But we are only going to realize that potential by doing stuff and getting out and seeing if it resonates with the consumer.”
Mastercard initially released payment developer functionality for merchants and banks to build bots in summer 2016.
The prime thrust for Mastercard into bots—or really any other edge device or software—is to extend the reach of its payments capabilities into the new realm of consumer interaction. That could mean virtual or augmented reality, bots, voice platforms or whatever comes next.
“My point of view on this is that we are in the ‘let many flowers bloom’ phase,” said Anderson. “The way I look at it as that we have websites, which are proven. We’ve got apps that were proven and now out of date. Because apps that are proven for certain uses cases … but there is a wide frontier. You’ve got the Alexas, the Messenger bots. A whole slew of ideas. From our point of view they are interfaces that are supporting a payment method and we need to make the payment method work in those interfaces.”
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