Chat and messaging provider Viber has announced in-chat e-commerce capabilities allowing users to make purchases from Macy’s, Viber parent Rakuten’s marketplace and other sellers, TechCrunch reports.
The feature is presented in the form of a shopping bag icon that, when pressed, provides Viber chat users with information about items for sale that are inspired by the chat they currently are engaging in. The feature allows chat users to browse products while staying within Viber’s app, but to complete purchases, they will be taken to the website of the specific retailer; VentureBeat reports that Viber eventually wants to enable purchases to be completed entirely within its own app.
The new capability will be available as a beta offering in the U.S. on March 6, and will be expanded on a worldwide basis as the year plays out.
It looks like we are seeing the next step in Rakuten's long game — not the one it set up when it acquired Viber back in 2014, but the one it kicked into motion when it acquired Buy.com way back in 2010 and took aim at becoming an international e-commerce giant. Viber's new feature furthers that broader aim.
Buying Viber was significant to quickly and broadly expanding Rakuten's addressable customer base with its messaging users, but that deal was done before the current wave of chatbot-driven customer engagement and commerce began, courtesy in large part of Facebook, which opened the floodgates when it opened Messenger to chatbot developers last year. Since then, we have seen an array of moves by brands, retailers and the companies that would partner with them to get into a market segment that is feeding the overall trend toward conversational commerce.
Facebook isn't the only chat platform in on this trend. Kik has started to building its own in-app shopping efforts, too, so it is not a real surprise to see Viber gain similar capabilities. But Viber's take on chat-enabled commerce is not focused on third-party chatbots, but rather what is essentially a buy button for products from participating retailers. It's Viber's own spin on an idea that is not necessarily new and has met with varying degrees of success elsewhere (didn't work for Twitter, but Pinterest — which counts Rakuten as a major investor, by the way — seemed to embrace the concept.)
Will this sort of in-stream capability work for Viber? It depends in part on how quickly it can get more retailers on board. Seeing Rakuten's marketplace hooked up is a no-brainer, but launching with Macy's should carry some good promotional value for Viber and be a proof point for other retailers to get involved (reportedly, there may be as many as 30 set to participate, but no others have been named.)
The ultimate value for Viber's in-chat purchasing will come if and when it can realize a model for in-chat commerce that actually keeps the entire purchase process from beginning to end within its own app, without sending users to another site. While chatbots have become very popular, closing sales within a chatbot interaction or within chat sessions has proved more elusive.