Should Retailers Develop Facebook Messenger Chatbots?

Facebook Refreshes Messenger v1.2, Updates for Facebook Messenger Chatbots

Facebook Messenger made headlines mid-2016 by reaching the one billion active users milestone. While the majority of people currently use the messaging service as a peer-to-peer communications tool, there is a strong push to further develop Facebook Messenger chatbots to build out Messenger as a tool for businesses as well.

One of the primary efforts highlighting this drive was Facebook’s development of its Bots for Messenger development tool, which Facebook houses directly on its website. It allows for the development of Facebook Messenger chatbots which will integrate directly with a company’s Facebook brand presence.

Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Messenger v1.2 mid-September which added a few notable features targeted at closing the gap that separates Facebook Messenger from being a practical business technology.  

What Are Facebook Messenger Chatbots?

Facebook Messenger chatbotFacebook Messenger chatbots are automated programs operating within the Facebook Messenger platform intended to make it easier for brands and customers to interact through Facebook.

Bots offer 24/7 support and are intended to answer customer questions when live support may not be available. The general goal behind bots is that they are able to offer digital customers the same assistance salespeople in a store might.

Since initially being introduced, bots have grown tremendously. A mere three months after launching the development tool, there were nearly 11,000 Facebook Messenger bots, as reported by The Verve. There are now over 34,000 active bots serving a wide variety of companies.

But how does that translate for customers? Has the addition of Facebook Messenger bots made the shopping experience on Facebook any easier? Should ecommerce retailers be racing to develop bots of their own?

What Do Chatbots for Facebook Messenger Offer Retailers?

Sell Products in Facebook Messenger

Messages with Payments [BETA: US] – Facebook is introducing a feature that enables checkout through Messenger. During interactions between customers and Facebook Messenger chat bots, the bot may recommend products that match that customers interests, based on prior search volume or conversation context.

Previously, if a user decided to purchase that item, they would be redirected to the company’s third-party site to complete the transaction. The addition of a payment service within Messenger means that now purchases can be made without ever leaving the Messenger app.


Facebook ensures that all transactions will take place securely utilizing “industry-leading controls” and that “financial information is protected with bank-level encryption.” Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus announced at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 that Facebook is working with all of the industry’s major players, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Braintree, Stripe, and Paypal.

online-basketThe update will introduce a “Buy Now” button which prompts new customers to enter their payment and shipping information securely at checkout, while returning customers are spared the hassle by having their saved information recalled. This will streamline the checkout process and reduce opportunities for consumer distraction in addition to making it far easier for consumers to complete purchases.

This a major step towards adapting Facebook Messenger into a full-service ecommerce channel.

Enhanced Mobile Websites in Messenger [BETA] will enable users to engage directly with a business’ full website without having to navigate away from the app. Developers will have the option to customize size requirements for optimization within the app so as to not detract from the conversation. The feature will also simplify and expedite purchasing from third party websites by incorporating the customer billing and shipping information Facebook has saved.

Program Chatbots to Offer Customer Service

One of the most intuitive ways to utilize Facebook Messenger chatbots is by developing them for automated customer service. Many of the first bots were developed to communicate with customers and offer information about brands and products. In this regard, bots are purely functional. They may handle returns, deliver order confirmations, send shipping updates, or offer inventory updates.

To get customers started, a welcome screen is being introduced that will greet users and explain the functionality of the chatbot. Businesses will customize the layout, including images and which introductory text will be shown. This is the first chance to engage the customer by explaining which solutions their Facebook Messenger chatbot is capable of providing.Facebook Messenger chatbot expert

“The most logical use case for chatbots at this point centers around customer service and order support,” notes Ryan Bates, Digital Production Coordinator at CPC Strategy and social media enthusiast.

“Unlike humans, chatbots are available 24/7 to answer questions and provide support. Most retailers don’t have 24/7 support to assist current and potential customers, meaning some sales could slip through the cracks. Chatbots could help fill that gap by answering questions any time of the day.”

While AI is advancing at a rapid rate, it is not yet sophisticated enough to answer consumer’s complex questions. By our analysis, Facebook Messenger chatbots will work best when they are programmed with a series of limited commands and offer users options to choose from, rather than trying to respond to unique requests. Utilize the “buttons” and “carousels” features to build out the customer experience in order to direct engagement.

Build Brand Awareness and Retarget Customers

In order to ramp up the adaption of Facebook Messenger chatbots, Facebook is introducing an option for advertisers to target News Feeds with CTA’s that will drive users to Messenger. Under the website clicks objective, advertisers will have the option of selecting “Messenger” as a destination and controlling reach using targeting audiences and delivery times.

These ads will appear directly in News Feed and clicks will then redirect users to Messenger where they will begin engaging with either a copy of the clicked advertisement or a set of structured messages.

Following a customer’s initial interaction with a company’s Facebook Messenger chatbot, the company will have the opportunity to reengage with their customers in Messenger. Note: the customer must first initiate the interaction with the chatbot. Companies can use chatbots to offer promotional material and recommend new products relevant to and aligned with customer interests.

“In terms of retargeting, there’s definitely the opportunity to leverage Facebook Messenger chatbots to reach out to those people who have shown interest in your products or even to those who have added something to their cart but who’ve never completed the checkout process.

The problem with this is that unlike an advertisement that can be overlooked, a direct message from a chatbot to a customer’s inbox is intrusive and could potentially turn customers away,” adds Bates.

Are Facebook Messenger Chatbots “Overhyped and Underpowered?”

Facebook’s introduction of Messenger chatbots was enthusiastically accepted by developers, who had already created over 11,000 bots after only three months. Consumers though, have been far more reluctant to begin using the feature, in part because Facebook Messenger chatbots have been too unsophisticated to offer users the support they advertised.

Facebook Messenger chatbotIn response to claims of user frustration and over promising, David Marcus offered, “The problem was it got really overhyped, very, very, quickly. The basic capabilities we provided at the time weren’t good enough to basically replace traditional app interfaces and experiences.”

The idea behind the Messenger Platform 1.2 is that it will help developers integrate Facebook Messenger chatbots with the customer experience by better structuring them to offer helpful solutions.

Facebook has acknowledged that the initial introduction of Facebook Messenger chatbots has not been as seamless as they had hoped, and in response have teamed up with Tommy Hilfiger to develop a bot that highlights all of the potential features in a user-friendly experience.

Our CPC Facebook Expert Weighs In

While Facebook Messenger chatbots seem like an easy way to integrate customer experience into Facebook, we urge retailers to approach the opportunity with caution.

Facebook Messenger chatbots are still in their infancy. We expect customer experience with chatbots to improve dramatically in the near future, but the hesitation to fully utilize this technology is based in its newness. While they can provide benefits for simple tasks, Facebook Messenger chatbots aren’t yet sophisticated enough to provide support the way a human can.

Because chatbots are still so new, there’s not enough data to show if they are beneficial to retailers beyond customer service at this point. Retailers should be keeping a close eye on the chatbot space,” says Bates.

“If retailers have the resources available to develop one, it’s valuable to begin testing the use of Facebook Messenger chatbots and getting their customers familiar with them. Utilizing them as a means of freeing up resources and acting as a customer service representative during off-hour times can help bridge the gap between creating new customers and making sure they keep the existing ones.”

Facebook Messenger chatbots are an exciting new opportunity offering unknown potential. Though the technology is still very young, it will continue to develop, and early adopters may find themselves ahead of the game when customers begin to fully adopt them. Still, retailers should remember to proceed slowly by taking small steps to ensure a positive experience for customers.

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