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The rise of chatbots for commerce

By Matt Miller, Vice President, Conversational Commerce and AI Interfaces at Mastercard

Let’s face it – consumers today want to get what they need immediately and efficiently, with as few clicks or steps as possible. The idea that “there’s an app for that” has lost a bit of steam as consumers began to discover that they don’t actually want a separate app for everything they need to do. Instead, they really just want to get those things done with more utility than more tools.

And then an idea was born – what if you could simply talk to app to give direction or ask questions? If we could enable computers to interact with humans, couldn’t we then create experiences that would transcend demographics? After all, new capabilities in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could make it an exciting reality.

Before we knew it, it was 2016 – the year that developer conferences around the world signaled that chatbots would become the computer interface of the future. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella championed the technology by saying, “Bots are the new apps.” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that, “You should message a business just the way you would message a friend.” The industry recognised that these new capabilities would fundamentally shift the way we interact with computers.

By 2020, studies show that 50 percent of searches will be made by voice and 30 percent of web browsing will be screenless. Add the simplicity of chatting with brands as a friend to commerce, and you’ve opened up an exciting world of payment possibilities. Conversational commerce, as we in Mastercard like to call it.

To jump headfirst into relatively unchartered territory for payments, we set ourselves a three-month goal to create a Mastercard chatbot for merchant experiences in restaurants. We ultimately landed on building a Masterpass-enabled chatbot for Subway, Cheesecake Factory, and FreshDirect that would let consumers order and pay for food through Facebook messenger.

The process was incredibly exciting from soup to nuts. From sketching the early product experiences, to pitching our idea to the merchants and building these bots in time for the Facebook F8 developer conference, we moved at record speeds. Our success was made possible by easy-to-use APIs and a collaborative team. In fact, one of our team members said, “This is like building an airplane while flying.” Fortunately, we soared.

Hear more from Matt in short film here, and check out how you can download and use our chatbot, or visit Mastercard Developers to learn how you can use our technology to build chatbots of your own.

Meet Matt at Money20/20 Europe to discover #WhatsNext in payments and chatbot technology.

Hear more from Matt in short film here