Can Chat Apps Stimulate Mobile Commerce?

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During the past year, mobile chat applications have been taking on more significant roles in e-commerce around the world. In Thailand, chat application providers Line and WeChat both announced they would be launching food delivery services on their respective platforms, with plans to expand into Japan and China. Likewise, KakaoTalk, a provider of chat services to South Korea and Southeast Asia, has also been planning to launch a similar program.

"At a high level, the way I see the industry evolving, the chat platform or messaging is the next operating system," says Chi-Chao Chang, vice president of Tango, a chat platform. "When you start to look at these capabilities of connecting people together and enabling communication between people—whether they are friends and family or strangers that you meet casually—the key then is how do you think about the new complementary vertical that you can build on top of these operating systems.... Naturally, one would think of commerce."

In 2014, two taxi service providers, Gett (headquartered in Israel) and Uber (based in San Francisco), launched programs that incorporate delivery services into their offerings. Uber arms bike couriers with iPhones to communicate with customers in a certain area and bring them what they need. Meanwhile, Gett partnered with WunWun, an on-demand delivery service for anything, to enable users to order goods when they order taxis in parts of New York.

Customers are coming to expect more control, and to get what they want when they want it. But while chat apps might have clear benefits, they might not always be the best option. "In the case of chat messaging, complex sales with a lot of options or education are not a great use of the medium. But it can be a very rapid way to handle reorders or something else that involves preselected packages where chat may be an order initiation or validation step," says Darius Vaskelis, senior vice president and managing director of CRM at Tectonic, a technology and business services provider.

"'I'd like my usual coffee' would leverage a strength of chat, but going through all the variations of size, strength, style, and such back and forth would be frustrating and probably easier on a lightweight Web site with pictures," Vaskelis adds.

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