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Ecommerce retailer is one of the first merchants to partner with a new messaging application intended to change how consumers interact with businesses by making it easy to communicate and transact via text.

The Hero app has been in private beta in London since Christmas, with thousands of consumers using it to shop, book a table at a restaurant and make appointments with participating merchants. The app recently opened up its service to thousands of new users, with conversations handled by partner businesses or by Hero’s team of experts.

“We’re finding that brands are very receptive to having a presence within a third party messaging app,” said says Adam Levene, founder and CEO of Hero. “They realize that it’s far more convenient for their customers to speak to multiple businesses from within one place.

“Because of that, the volume of interactions is likely to be far higher as they’re benefiting from the high repeat usage of an ‘everyday’ app,” he said.

“I think most brands now realize that having their own apps may drive downloads but doesn’t always guarantee ongoing usage. Like social media, they can see the benefits of being part of an ecosystem.”

Conversational commerce
The Hero app is designed to take advantage of what it calls “conversational commerce,” reflecting the growth in messaging apps and how, for smartphone-savvy consumers, phones are playing an increasingly crucial role throughout the purchase journey, including communicating with merchants about any questions.

Using the Hero app, consumers leverage messaging to seek expert advice, share images of what they are looking for and book a service or appointment from within a conversation. Soon, users will also be able to pay from within the app.

The beta test in London suggests that consumers are comfortable using their phones for a variety products and services, with one shopper using it to locate a hard-to-find Daum vase while another booked a wedding venue and catering arrangements via the app.

Consumers discover Hero, often through others already using the service,” Mr. Levene said. “Once downloaded, a user can message any business in London – from restaurants to stores.

“They can seek expert advice, share images of what they’re looking for, make bookings and soon pay seamlessly – all from within a conversation,” he said.

“For the consumer, the experience is as effortless as messaging a friend. That’s the mission of Hero.”

Fast, personalized messaging
In addition to, initial partners include other ecommerce players as well as logistics and insurance businesses.

The range of businesses Hero can be used for includes restaurants, cinemas, stores, galleries, bars and beauty salons.

Messaging is expected to play a bigger role in how consumers communicate with businesses going forward, a trend that has started to emerge as more merchants leverage messaging inside their own apps as dedicating resources to respond to consumers who message them from various social media platforms.

“In the mobile-age, consumers just don’t have the patience to wait on hold, email companies or browse badly optimized Web sites,” Mr. Levene said. “They demand fast, personalized responses from businesses, on-the-go when it suits them. Subsequently, messaging is the obvious platform of choice for consumers to interact with business.

“However, it doesn’t necessarily mean consumers want to interact with businesses in the same apps as they chat to friends and loved ones,” he said. “Our research shows that in the West, unlike in Asia, people want a dedicated app where can they keep their interactions with businesses separate from their chats with friends.

“That’s why Hero is the only messaging app in the world dedicated to chats between people and businesses. We see this as a huge advantage. Just like how people ‘Uber a taxi’, we want ‘Hero-ing’ a business to become the norm.”