Why online retailers need to embrace the messaging revolution



February 21, 2019

Conversational Commerce

With over 4 billion people around the world using messaging apps regularly and major technology companies like Facebook and Apple opening up their messaging platforms to businesses now is the right time for retailers to start using messaging to build better relationships with customers.

Five reasons why

We believe messaging is going to become the main channel for e-commerce over the next few years. Here are five key reasons why.

1. Messaging is not new nor a fad

Messaging in one form or another has been around for over 25 years and its use keeps growing. People have been sending text messages (SMS) to each other since 1993 and Instant Messaging (IM) or “chat” has been widely available for over 20 years, with popular brands like ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger taking off in the mid-1990s.

2. Messaging has overtaken social

People around the world are using messaging apps to not only chat with friends and family but also to connect with businesses, browse products, look at pictures and watch videos.

The combined user base of the top four chat apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat & Viber) overtook the combined user base of the top four social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & LinkedIn) way back in 2015. Chat apps also have higher retention and usage rates than most mobile apps.

messaging apps surpassed social networks
Source: Business Insider Intelligence

Why are messaging apps so popular? Messaging apps took off as a free alternative to the pricey SMS messages offered by mobile operators. As network effects took hold and as richer features beyond simple text were added (e.g. images, emojis, voice calling and video chat) their use and spread exploded.

To illustrate the rapid growth of messaging we can look to Facebook’s Messenger app. Facebook launched Facebook Chat in 2008 as part of the main Facebook app. In August 2011 it released standalone apps for Android and iOS but it wasn’t until April 2014 when Facebook created the Messenger app as a separate app from the main Facebook app that growth really took off. In just over 4 years Messenger grew phenomenally from around 200 million users to around 1.3 billion users in 2018.

messenger user growth graph
Source: TechCrunch

3. People are already messaging businesses a lot

Given messaging is so popular among people it is hardly surprising that people want to message businesses as well. Facebook has, for several years, enabled its users to send messages to businesses via their Facebook Page.

consumers messaged business last 3 months
Source: Sentient Decision Science

Consumers want to be able to message businesses to find out about their orders and delivery status, provide feedback and reviews, learn about new products, receive promotional offers and, of course, get help.

consumers use messaging to
Source: Twilio

Recently Facebook announced that 10 billion messages are being sent between businesses & consumers every month! So it’s pretty clear that people want to message your business whether you like it or not. If you’re still not convinced a recent Facebook survey showed that 53% of people who send messages are more likely to shop with a business they can message. Can you afford to ignore that many potential customers?

4. E-commerce growth is being driven by mobile

Globally there are around 7.9 billion mobile accounts, about 5.7 billion of which have broadband internet connections. This growth is being driven by the availability of cheaper phones and declining data prices.

In 2018, according to eMarketer, almost two-thirds of worldwide e-commerce sales occurred on mobile devices, representing 6% of total (online + offline) global retail sales. Mobile (m-commerce) sales as a proportion of total retail sales are forecast to more than double to 12.7% over the four years to 2021. 

Source: eMarketer

That’s some pretty spectacular growth but it can’t be achieved with only a mobile-friendly version of your desktop website. There is just too much friction trying to fill out order forms on the small screens of mobile devices.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and WeChat are designed specifically for mobile use so consumers can expect a better and easier purchase experience compared to a mobile version of your website. A good messaging experience, using automated bots to help consumers discover, purchase and pay for products, will speed up the customer journey and drive more sales.

5. Email & social channels are over-saturated

Business owners and marketers are well aware of the declining performance of digital marketing channels like email marketing and social marketing on networks such as Facebook and Instagram.

Whilst email is often the most effective marketing channel for retailers, especially for generating repeat purchases, only one-in-five emails sent gets opened and about 15% of those opens result in clicks through to a website. Inboxes are just too overcrowded these days and emails quickly vanish from view and memory.

Source: GetResponse

Retailers typically invest a lot of time into social channels such as Facebook and Instagram but engagement rates from organic posts are depressingly low both due to the high volume of posts and the algorithms used to determine to whom such posts are shown.

Source: Rival IQ

In stark contrast, our experience with Facebook Messenger is showing very high engagement rates. Message open rates are often around the 80-90% level with click-through rates of 30-40% quite typical.

How can retailers use messaging today?

There are many ways retailers can benefit today from using messaging apps and retail use cases will only continue to grow over time as messaging platform features develop and their surrounding ecosystems of bots and apps grow.

Whilst each messaging platform is at a different stage in terms of features offered to businesses, Facebook Messenger currently has the most to offer (outside WeChat in China). Combining Messenger with chat automation platforms (‘chatbots’) such as Maisie you can:

Right message, right time, right channel

The ultimate goal of marketing is to deliver the right message to a customer at the right time and in the right channel. If many of your customers already spend time in and enjoy having conversations with friends and family in messaging apps, why, as an e-commerce marketer or store owner, wouldn’t you want to engage with them where they like to hang out?