An update to Facebook Messenger will allow chatbot developers to accept mobile payments within the app, Facebook announced today, giving businesses easier access to consumers' wallets.
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Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Messenger head David Marcus said that native payments will be useful for certain types of bots. You can pay for an airline ticket, for instance, and then receive an itinerary from a travel-booking bot all without having to visit a website.
That streamlined experience is "not about bots," Marcus said, acknowledging that much of the hype Facebook generated when it introduced Messenger bots earlier this year may have been overblown. Instead, bots are a means to an end: Facebook wants to offer the most natural way for consumers to interact with businesses.
There are now more than 34,000 developers creating Messenger bots, according to Marcus. Among the most successful have been travel booking and news bots, many of which are also available on other platforms, including Microsoft's Skype.
Payments in Messenger will be handled by PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and other partners, Marcus said, though he did not offer specifics on how the payment process will work.
Besides making bots more powerful, Marcus stressed that the ability to accept payments in Messenger will increase companies' revenue. A business can hook a customer with an automated bot conversation and then reach into his or her wallet, all without the need to hire and train call center employees.
Marcus also defended Facebook's controversial decision to remove Messenger from the mobile version of its website. He said the move was necessary for Messenger to support push notifications, bringing Facebook's chat client in line with other standalone messaging apps.
"We want to make sure that if you use Messenger, you can actually get people to respond faster," he said. He noted that older or less-powerful Android devices that don't support the app can still access Messenger via mobile web.