Chat and messaging giant Viber has announced a new in-chat “Instant shopping” feature that lets users search for goods without leaving Viber.
The new social commerce feature will arrive in the U.S. on March 6 in beta and will be rolled out globally throughout 2017.
The launch will include Macy’s and, interestingly, Rakuten.com — the ecommerce marketplace formerly known as Buy.com, which was acquired by Japanese tech titan Rakuten in 2010. You may remember that Rakuten has been the owner of Viber since its $900 million acquisition in 2014, so this sheds some light on how Rakuten is looking to cross-pollinate its services.
While only Macy’s and Rakuten.com have been confirmed at the time of writing, we’re told that more big names will be announced ahead of the launch in early March.
It’s worth noting here that the new shopping feature doesn’t extend to the final transaction. Users can search for and share items within Viber, but if they find something they like they are then whisked off to the third-party retailer to complete the purchase. However, a spokesperson did confirm to VentureBeat that the end goal will be to create a full ecommerce experience that allows for payment in-app.
The concept of bringing ecommerce into the messaging world is, of course, nothing new. Facebook has been pushing for Messenger to become the go-to platform for communication between friends, customers, and businesses for a number of years, with some notable partners on board from the get-go, including ecommerce company Zulily and clothing retailer Everlane. But the tie-ups so far have been more about customer service and communications, rather than offering a full-fledged ecommerce experience.
Viber’s recent moves hint at what could be to come — a gargantuan shopping emporium embedded into the very fabric of a messaging app. Of course, some argue there is no need to have a single go-to destination for chatting with friends and shopping — there is some crossover, sure, but ultimately they are different experiences that belong in separate apps.
“Messaging is just starting its journey on mobile devices,” said Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua. “By adding ecommerce capabilities, Viber is bringing a solution for mobile shoppers to share their passion with the people that matter to them in a couple of taps. This is just the first step in a very exciting journey we’re about to take with our users, and it’s only going to get better as we add more partners and gather more feedback.”
This launch represents part of a growing push by Viber to connect companies with consumers. Back in November, it followed Facebook’s lead in launching public accounts for brands, enabling one-to-many broadcasts and one-to-one communications. It was clear from this that Viber was pushing itself as a platform for customer service, marketing, and sales. Now, with in-chat shopping, another piece of Viber’s monetization puzzle is in place.
Viber had been without a CEO for more than a year before appointing Agaoua earlier this month. Agaoua most recently served as CEO at mobile advertising company MobPartner, a startup that was acquired by Cheetah Mobile in March 2015. That an adtech veteran is now steering Viber also serves as a big clue about the direction the company is heading — it really wants brands to connect with its 800 million-strong global user base.