MasterCard announced that it's planning to use artificial intelligence technology in bots that allow consumers to shop via messaging platforms, manage finances and perform other transactions.
MasterCard will offer a chatbot for merchants and another for banks, both developed by Mastercard Labs. Consumers will be able to shop and process transactions on messaging platforms, and check out with the Masterpass digital wallet, all by initiating a conversation with the merchant's bot.
MasterCard also plans to open up its BotCommerce API through its Mastercard Developers platform later this year, which will allow merchants to begin testing their own chatbots powered by Masterpass in a sandbox environment.
Count MasterCard among the fast-growing number of companies that are developing, hosting or branding bots to support various aspects of the shopping experience. The new MasterCard bots are not only for retail — the company says they work across multiple industry verticals. But retailers probably will jump at the chance to have MasterCard, already a partner to many, help them enter the age of bots.
They also can run on various messaging platforms, not just Facebook Messenger (which is becoming heavily populated with new bots) but also potentially Kik, which recently upped its own bot game, and others. MasterCard didn't mention either of those platforms by name in connection with the merchant bot, though it did say it is already pilot testing its Mastercard KAI bot for banks on Messenger. In any case, it would not be a surprise after this initial bot launch to see more specific partnership announcements come out soon.
With the BotCommerce API program, MasterCard is taking a page from Facebook's strategy to encourage broad bot deployment by merchants, providing them with an API and the tools and environment they need to get started. It's still way too early to determine how heavily and how soon bots will figure in as a major sales engine, but making it easier for merchants to create and deploy them is the first step to finding out.
Ultimately, this bot move also could prove to help Masterpass in a crowded market of digital wallets. Processing purchases and transactions by bot is still a very new concept, but MasterCard is in the right business to figure out this crucial element.