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Everlane, Zulily embrace Facebook Messenger for customer service

Retailers Everlane and Zulily are at the forefront  of leveraging Messenger for one-to-one business-customer relations as Facebook looks to position the application as a communications platform.

A Facebook spokeswoman downplayed speculation that the social networking site’s broadening of Messenger’s reach to increase shopper convenience is a prelude to a bigger move into mobile commerce, despite its partnering with Everlane, an  online clothing site, and zulily, a flash-sale site. The move nevertheless focuses attention on the huge revenue windfall that messaging players would collect if efforts aimed at letting businesses connect with their best customers and fans on mobile were to win broad adoption.

“Businesses on Messenger represents our early efforts to build a platform for people and businesses to better communicate and interact through Messenger,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. “We previewed the first steps of this new platform, focused on enhancing the customer service experience after a purchase has been made.”

Social shopping

Zulily and Everlane, both of which sell products online only, are looking to Messenger to help them connect with customers on a more personal level.

Facebook Messenger blog post.

Consumers at checkout will have the option to receive their order confirmations and shipping information through Messenger. They then can start a real-time dialogue with the business or modify their orders.

The businesses’ service teams will be able to support customers through managing multiple Messenger chats at once, collaborating with one another to solve a customer’s issue, and accessing chat history to easily continue a conversation after a break.

Both businesses see the partnership as a way to have a free-flowing dialogue with customers, since Everlane has a large number of customers on Facebook and Messenger and zulily gets most of its North American orders from mobile, The Street reported.

The brands will use an integration of Zendesk’s Zopim chat product with Messenger to provide customer service to Messenger users. The integration that Zendesk is developing for zulily and Everlane will be rolled out gradually, according to a press release.

Following Facebook’s unveiling of Businesses on Messenger, allowing people who purchase something from a Web site to receive updates in Messenger and continue their conversation with the business in the app, speculation grew that Facebook is preparing for a role as a mobile commerce medium, given the social nature of both shopping and customer service.

“I can almost guarantee that Facebook will start showcasing products of larger brands, with the aforementioned [Everlane and zuilily] being the major ones to pilot,” said David Bozin, vice president of growth development at Bindo.

“It is a highly natural fit for consumer-facing goods to be placed into a highly social platform, wherein consumers can not only receive updates around products that they have purchased, but as well, have the ability to gain instant gratification by sharing their purchases with friends.

“The major issue used to be owning the entire life cycle of a purchase – finding, purchasing, getting updates, sharing and most importantly, buying more,” he said. “Facebook is using larger brands to funnel purchases into their widely accepted Messenger, with the immediate value being the possibility for social sharing resulting in more purchases by friends.

“This is the very crux of highly-targeted organic advertising,” he said.

Facebook’s posting of an image on its blog that suggests shoppers can use Messenger to add an item to an existing order originally placed on the retailer’s own site shows the direction in which the site will go, Mr. Bozin said: funneling larger retailer traffic into a social platform that will result in more purchases through social sharing.

Although the Messenger positioning could possibly let a business offer a selected item to a particular customer and let them complete a purchase right in the app, Facebook is unlikely to try to provide a full shopping experience through a chat window.

“Another interesting possibility is that Facebook could allow a retailer to complete a transaction started online by confirming in Messenger and completing payment,” said John Haro, chief technology officer of Vibes.

Facebook’s Messenger moves underscore the revenue opportunity that waits to be unlocked by messaging players who succeed in winning acceptance for experiments at allowing businesses to connect with loyal customers and fans on mobile.

“Given Facebook’s reach of over 500 million people internationally, the opportunity to add Messenger as a channel is profound,” Mr. Haro said.

The ultimate prize in social media is to empirically link paid ads with converted purchases, and move to a commission-based reward for proven sales. Long-standing affiliate models show that retailers are willing to pay handsomely for a sale linked to an initial click on a brand interaction.

“Since we know that recommendations from trusted friends heavily influence purchasing decisions, it is logical that Facebook will try to crack this nut,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales for Unbound Commerce, Boston.

“Google is all over this too, as they consolidate offerings from multiple stores in a mobile-mall format, allowing them to connect ad spend with incremental sales converted.

“Personalization of the shopping experience is red-hot and, if this can be linked to a messaging service within the Facebook walled garden, they can prove they are driving even more value for their advertisers,” he said.   

Boosting ecosystem
Facebook ultimately is more likely to focus on building platforms to enable others to sell within its ecosystem.

Creating a dialogue with customers on social.

“Facebook is really focused on keeping users in its apps so it’s no surprise that we also heard about potential partnerships with several media companies earlier this week to publish content directly on Facebook rather than external sites,” said Sean Cullen, executive vice president of product and technology at Fluent.

“This really is going to be a platform play to keep users engaged so that they can leverage advertising strategies for monetization. The features aimed at improving the shopping experience really are an incentive for retailers to utilize the platform,” he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York