April 19, 2017
By John Stewart
Are so-called bots the future of commerce? The digital gadgets took another step in that direction Tuesday with a flurry of announcements at a Facebook conference regarding new bot launches on the social network’s massive Messenger app.
Customers can use a Facebook Messenger bot to order and pay for a Subway sandwich and pick it up later at the closest store.
Mastercard Inc. said it has enabled its Masterpass digital wallet for use with bots that can order and pay for products from the grocer Fresh Direct, meals from the Subway fast-food chain, and gift cards from Cheesecake Factory restaurants. On top of that, the two giants in money transfer, The Western Union Co. and MoneyGram International Inc., announced they have enabled bots to send cash to countries around the world.
Messenger apps have come to be seen as natural networks for commerce via bots, or chatbots as they are sometimes called, because of their built-in machine-learning capability and the way they can be summoned via the messenger apps’ conversational capability. Facebook Messenger, which is used by at least 1 billion users, introduced bot commerce a year ago, and less than six months later some 30,000 bots were crawling the network.
Mastercard, in particular, has been keen on developing the technology, working on bots for both retail transactions and for commerce with card issuers.
As a result of the developments announced Tuesday, Fresh Direct will allow customers to order grocery deliveries and pay for them with Masterpass via a bot on Messenger. Fresh Direct delivers to towns in seven states, including New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. And The Cheesecake Factory said it will allow purchases of its gift cards via a Messenger bot. The chain relies on real-time technology from gift card platform CashStar.
Subway announced customers on Messenger can order and pay for a sandwich or salad through a bot and pick up the order at the closest store. It promises the order will be ready in 15 minutes or less. Customers can pay with Masterpass or through Facebook’s payment system. Subway, which has 26,500 U,S. locations, said it developed the bot through its Subway Digital unit, working with a technology firm called Agilitee.Solutions LLC.
The announcements were made at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference, which ends Wednesday.
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