Earlier this month, Kik CEO Ted Livingston said payments are all that’s needed for chatbots to live up to last year’s hype. He says the technology is in “a holding pattern until we get mobile payments,” but insists he’s seen enough “magic” to know it’s only a matter of time until bots become the next big commerce platform.

Livingston’s comments make a lot of sense, too. Not having payment on an eCommerce platform is a bit of a problem, for obvious reasons, but is this really all that’s standing in the way of chatbots changing the way people shop online?

Chatbots without payments

All you have to do is look at China, where WeChat accounts for 35% of all time spent on mobile, to see what bots can do for commerce. This usage time includes sending peer-to-peer payments, buying products from within the app and a range of other consumer actions without needing to leave the application.



This kind of experience has turned WeChat into an eCommerce giant and Line is doing similar things in Japan. Meanwhile, for those of us who rely on boring old Google and Facebook for most of our online needs, this kind of experience is still elusive.

Payments in Facebook Messenger is still a beta feature and while the network has expanded P2P payments on the platform, this does little for eCommerce brands. Meanwhile, Kik CEO is still talking about payments rather than rolling out features, so the wait for widespread product sales inside chat platforms continues.

This will happen sooner or later, of course. It’s only a matter of time before chatbot payments are the norm but it’ll take more than that to turn them into a daily shopping tool for users.

Chatbots need to get better at solving problems

The lack of payment functionality in chatbots adds a number of unnecessary steps in the buying process and this kind of friction never helps. However clicking through to a website to complete the purchase isn’t any worse than the usual approach to buying from an eCommerce store. So let’s not make out this is a much bigger problem than it is. Sure, the sooner payments come to chatbots the better, but there’s a much bigger problem with the majority of bots being released.

Most chatbots aren’t solving consumer problems.

We’ve seen some impressive chatbots over the last twelve months, but nowhere near enough of them. Most developers are too concerned with showing how smart or witty their bots can be instead of trying to make the buying process easier or more engaging. That’s a pretty dumb way to use machine learning and artificial intelligence. Payments or not, chatbot designers and developers need to up their game in terms of solving consumer problems with the technology.

Here are some good reasons to build a bot:

  • Create a personalised search process: Some of the best bots so far simply make the search and filter process more intuitive, storing user preferences for future sessions.
  • Remove purchase barriers: For example, automatically filter out-of-stock products to stop users browsing through products that aren’t available.
  • Reach your repeat customers: Whether it’s ink cartridges or Mother’s Day cards, sometimes people need a friendly reminder.
  • Update customers on the go: Inform people about special offers, new items or when you’ll have something in stock (think new game titles, iPhone releases, etc.)
  • Improve customer service: Delivery updates, interactive FAQs, instant ticket responses, etc.

There could be any number of other reasons you want to build a bot, but you better be sure it has something to offer your customers. The chatbot novelty has already worn off on people so you can’t expect them to come back just because your bot has some witty comebacks when it gets confused.

Forget about trying to impress people with smartarse bots because the technology isn’t there yet to run rings around humans in a conversation. And, even when it is, this won’t be what convinces people to adopt bots as a regular commerce platform. WeChat and Line have become eCommerce giants in their respective countries because they make it incredibly easy to buy products, not because they try to wow people with AI or machine learning.

Chatbots have all the potential to become the next big thing in eCommerce and payments will be an important step in making that happen – but it won’t be enough. Brands, designers and developers alike need to forget about chatbots as the latest marketing trend and focus on using the technology to solve consumer problems in a way other platforms can’t.