Software has completely changed the way consumers communicate with the world and many of these changes have been driven by the emergence of a powerful new player in the field: chat apps.

Chat was one of the biggest obsessions at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference this past April, as the company unveiled plans to expand the functionality of its Messenger platform to include expanded transaction capabilities to content publishing functionality.

The Messenger announcement spotlights one of the most exciting emerging use cases for messaging apps as the entry point for accessing the internet and e-commerce.

Chat Apps Are the New Browsers

Times have certainly changed since 1993 when Netscape Navigator pioneered the browser as our portal to the vast universe of online information. Today, we no longer surf the web because there’s too much to surf.

Now, the bottomless ocean of information and data at our disposal has arguably become the internet’s biggest weakness. That reality, combined with the rise of smartphones as mainstream consumer devices, has ushered in an app economy where chat apps are fast becoming the new default destination for web-bound consumers.

Self-Contained Chat Apps Dominate

Reading the news is a prime example: Instead of visiting the webpage of a chosen news source, today’s readers are more likely to discover news stories on their mobile news feeds and click links to read them, all without ever leaving their apps.

In fact, a recent Forrester report (registration and/or purchase required) found that messaging and social apps capture more user attention than any other type, with 80 percent of a user’s time being spent on just five applications. That means that people not only no longer need browsers to communicate with each other but have less incentive than ever to venture onto the wider web.

Direct Consumer Access

Incorporating the functions of the internet directly into the new wave of chat integrations gives businesses an entirely new channel through which to engage with customers.

Yet one of the biggest changes that businesses encounter when shifting from traditional web-based engagement — where search marketing dominates — to chat-based engagement is that the engagement becomes much more of a two-way street.

With search functions now being channeled directly to where consumers are already spending their time, it becomes easier for customers to ask questions, potentially deepening customer relationships but also turning the traditional customer service model on its head. For example, consider how services like Airbnb are using chat apps to enable customers to make requests in real-time, thus minimizing the chance of mistakes, streamlining service and facilitating engagement.

Learning Opportunities

Transforming E-Commerce

This is just one example of how chat apps are transforming e-commerce. As messaging apps continue to facilitate transactions and enable users to buy products seamlessly without leaving the messaging experience, the entire customer journey stands to change in two important ways:

Consolidated Actions: WeChat, the most popular application in China, is ahead of its time for many reasons, but the most fascinating is its list of offerings. WeChat users can hail cabs, buy movie tickets, send money to friends, book medical appointments, make donations to charity and perform dozens of other financial actions directly through the application.

There’s no web search involved, no navigating through a website and no need to enter additional payment information. Chinese users can simply open their messaging app and make a purchase. Such a friction-free experience represents a massive opportunity for businesses to make their products more accessible and easier to buy.

Social Context: Social media has already created an environment where consumers can interact directly with organizations by commenting or tweeting so extending that type of interaction into messaging is a natural next step.

Integrating content discovery into the chat experience — such as Facebook’s recent announcement of publishing capabilities for Messenger — changes what used to be straightforward one-to-one communication into potentially broader interactions with the world at large.

Chat: The Web of Tomorrow

Just as internet browsing and social media shifted from maintaining personal networks to fostering global interactions the chat app experience is poised to broaden beyond simple person-to-person messaging. The popularity of today’s chat apps — as well as the messaging components of broader platforms like Instagram or Snapchat — have set the stage for chat to become the default web platform of tomorrow. 

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