F8 2019 has come to a close and with multiple updates across Facebook’s suite of apps, which currently house 2.7 billion users, it can be difficult to tell what is on the horizon for brands and retailers. For the most part, updates fell into two categories: those focused on building community and those focused on consumer experience (CX). Since our focus as an augmented reality commerce platform is intertwined with innovative CX, we’ve been following these announcements closely. From expanded platform access to simplified shopping to more augmented reality, Facebook’s upcoming updates are laying the groundwork for a shopping experience that just might give Amazon a run for its money.
Facebook rolled out Messenger in 2016 and today it is the 3rd most used app in the world, behind Facebook and Youtube. This year, we can expect a fully functional desktop app, as well as new lead gen ads available within Ads Manager that will drive users straight to Messenger. Additionally, Messenger bots are gaining the ability to book appointments.
As of last year, there were 300,000 business bots in Messenger and that number is growing. Messenger bots are an easy and seamless way for businesses to communicate with customers inside the Messenger app. They are automated based on Facebook's artificial intelligence (AI), which makes an appointment booking system an incredibly useful addition. This new feature is likely to entice more of the 40 million businesses currently using Messenger to communicate with customers to adopt a bot of their own. Available now in invite-only beta, the program will be expanded to more users later this year. Users can access this feature directly in Messenger, via conversations that begin with a Facebook News Feed ad, Messenger home page ad, or a web chat plugin on a business’ website.
A recent study by the Intent Lab underscored the value of visual product representation. It found that 59% of shoppers think visual information is more important than text information. Instagram, notoriously visually-driven, boasts more than 1 billion users. Ahem, Amazon.
Instagram unveiled Checkout earlier this year, enabling businesses selling goods directly to U.S. users to allow check out and pay all without leaving the Instagram app. As soon as next week, Checkout will be equipped with a tagging tool, which allows users to shop looks from brands and creators. Early participants include Vogue, Hypebeast, GQ, Kylie Jenner, Huda Kattan, and more. Previously, posts from these accounts could drive users to their website by including a link in their bio or by using a “LikeToKnowIt” integration. This shortened path to purchase increases conversion by simplifying the entire process for consumers and brands starting from discovery.
Speaking of discovery, Instagram is expanding Checkout to Explore. Currently 20% of user time is spent in Explore, so adding shoppable posts to this section is likely to increase visibility and conversion by enabling discovery of relevant products where consumers are already dedicating time to browse. Similar to brand apps that boast high conversions, consumers are already paying attention. Unlike branded apps that often struggle with building and maintaining an active user base, Instagram’s user base is already there.
WhatsApp is already so much more than a personal communication platform. More people have a WhatsApp account than a bank account in many countries. Business looking to connect with and be available to consumers are already using WhatsApp, and often in the place of a website. The logical next step here is to enable shopping within the app, which is why product catalogs are coming to WhatsApp. Business owners using the WhatsApp API or WhatsApp Business can share their products more easily with potential customers, enabling business in places where connectivity and infrastructure may be lacking.
According to Facebook, more than 1 billion unique people are using AR experiences today. This is just within the Facebook ecosystem, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Portal. Coming soon, Facebook is expanding Spark AR, its augmented reality developer platform to Windows. To date, it has only been available on Mac. This means more creators working on AR across devices. Furthermore, starting this summer, Spark AR developers will be able to share to Instagram, which should increase the number of branded AR experiences we can expect on the platform.
We have already seen that augmented reality shopping experiences drive increased consumer confidence and conversion. Given the implementation and expansion of both shopping and augmented reality across the Facebook ecosystem, it seems likely that the two will meet somewhere in the middle. We will have to wait and see.