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With Facebook Messenger Integration, Shopify Lets Businesses Sell Via Bots

250,000 merchants can now offer their customers the opportunity to browse and buy products in Facebook Messenger.

Posted on October 5, 2016, at 2:03 p.m. ET

Chatting with retailer bots can be an annoying experience. Some can't seem to take a hint when you want to buy their product. Others suggest searching the web for the stuff you say you're interested in. Today, Shopify, a tech company that helps merchants sell online, is introducing a Facebook Messenger integration intended to make the process a little bit easier for 250,000 of the businesses that use it, and their customers.

The integration, available to Shopify merchants in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, makes product catalogs and pricing available inside Messenger. It also lets shoppers complete purchases inside the app. People chatting with Shopify merchant bots can browse through store catalogs and pricing by tapping through suggested replies inside a Messenger conversation. To make a purchase, they need only click "buy now" to view a checkout form with an assortment of payment options. Shopify isn’t storing credit card information inside Messenger right now, but the company is testing native payments and expects to release a product with that integration within the next few months, though it may be a small test to start.

"Starting today, we’ve made it possible for your customers to browse and buy products in Messenger—all while chatting with you in real-time," the company told its merchants in a blog post. "This is a major step forward for conversational commerce, one that has the potential to change the way the world shops online."

In February, Shopify introduced Shopkey, a keyboard that imports retailers' product catalogs, allowing them to quickly insert photos and purchase links into conversations with customers on social media. Today's move brings the product catalog even closer to those customers, letting them browse it themselves in a message thread.

The integration will be available today to 250,000 Shopify merchants. Of these retailers, 23,000 have already signed up for an earlier feature that allows them to send customers notifications like shipping status via Messenger. Those merchants could form a strong base to help this new effort take hold.

Social commerce hasn't exactly blown anyone away. Twitter, for example, bet on commerce only to dissolve the team charged with developing it earlier this year. Merchants working with Facebook proper have also expressed displeasure with social commerce. Much needs to happen for the struggling practice to reverse course, and taking some of the friction out of the process, which this integration does, is a good place to start.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.