Mobile messaging: is it (finally) the Americans’ time ?

Apr 12, 2016
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messenger_riseLong time readers of this blog will recognize my fascination with mobile messaging apps for a while now (Don’t shoot the Messenger, Line vs WeChat, My personalized Line stickers, etc.). For years now I’ve argued that the modern wave of messaging rose in Asia, with the West playing catch-up.

Last year I wrote about my epiphany in Bangkok (no, not what you’re thinking!). Specifically, I was intrigued by how merchants hacked together an improbable combination of Instagram and messaging app LINE to engage directly with consumers who view photos of their products on Instagram. The intersection of users of the two platforms in Bangkok is gigantic. The capital’s Siam Paragon Mall ranks as one of the top Instagrammed locations worldwide, and Thailand represents LINE’s highest adoption market outside Japan.

Yet the combination was clunky because the two platforms were not integrated. Consumers would scroll through photos of products on the merchant’s Instagram page, copy down the merchant’s LINE ID in the page description, subsequently shift over to LINE, manually type in the ID, and then initiate contact with the merchant.

The fact that consumers performed such a painstaking effort underscored the pent-up market demand, I argued.

Enter FB Messenger

Now, with the rise of its own messaging app, it would seem that Facebook is perfectly positioned to capture this demand with its own prized assets: Messenger and Instagram.

Let’s take two premises:

  1. a) Messaging can enhance the mobile shopping experience
  2. b) the Instagram-style layout is an effective way to display products on a mobile phone

I submit that these are reasonable assumptions. Instagram’s 3×3 scrollable photo layout is visually appealing, and buying things through messaging apps is more comfortable for consumers since they are already using messaging to communicate with trusted friends and family. According to eMarketer, people using messaging apps on their mobile phones will more than double to roughly 2.2 billion by 2019.

I never found any examples of merchants in the West who would steer visitors of their Instagram page toward direct engagement with a salesperson. Consumer brands were only beginning to embrace Instagram to showcase their wares. Some would employ their Instagram pages to drive traffic to their websites, even integrating directly with online shopping via tools like Springbot. Perhaps the lack of integration with a messaging app discouraged merchants from trying. Perhaps the less reflexive messaging culture in the West compared to Asia played a role. I don’t know why, but direct engagement via messaging remained conspicuously absent.

Until now.

For just a few months now, Facebook has integrated shopping tools into FB Messenger in an experiment with online retailer Everlane. It appears that this experiment is showing traction. Since its partnership with Facebook began last year, Everlane apparently has handled more than 10,000 chats on FB Messenger with its customers and 750 sessions a week (according to Zendesk, which allows retailers to store order information and deal with multiple conversations simultaneously).

Facebook should integrate Messenger and Instagram

With over 400 million monthly active users on Instagram, and 800 million MAUs on FB Messenger, it would seem like facilitating the link between Instagram and FB Messenger directly should be a no-brainer for Facebook.

Furthermore, I think Facebook should take a page out of the playbook in Asia (LINE, WeChat) and incorporate heightened commerce functionality into FB Messenger. Of course, this will subsequently beg the question of what’s up with WhatsApp…

[Note: coincidentally a few days after I originally crafted this piece, two developments emerged that would seem to reinforce my hypothesis: WhatsApp announced full end-to-end encryption in the wake of the Apple-FBI brouhaha, and Snapchat announced its own version of Chat 2.0. I need to take a closer look at Snapchat now…]