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Facebook Messenger Prepares In-Store Purchase Service

Tucked inside the code for Facebook’s Messenger are clues for how the chat app plans to become a marketplace, including an unreleased feature that lets people use the app to buy things in stores.

Other new features hinted at in the software include “secret conversations,” presumably a reference to encrypted chats, something now available in WhatsApp as well as newer messaging apps like Telegram but not Messenger. People could also sync their calendars in Messenger, judging by what’s in the code viewed by The Information.

The Takeaway
Facebook appears to be preparing features to spur more purchases on Messenger, such as giving users capabilities to pay for items they pick up in person. The Messenger app’s data files also suggest users may soon be able to chat in “secret.”

We found references to the unreleased features, written as plain English distinct commands, by extracting and viewing software files that make up the current version of Messenger on iPhone.  Facebook declined to comment, and it’s unclear when the features may be released.

But the unreleased features suggest Messenger’s push to shape itself as a social commerce platform is accelerating more quickly than previously known. And the interest in store purchases is notable. The software includes commands allowing a user to “pay in person” or “pay directly in Messenger when you pick up the item” with “no cash needed.”

One developer who has worked with Facebook said Messenger has a large team working on integrating online and offline services, like using the app for purchasing items in retail stores.

This would put Facebook into a market where Apple Pay and Android Pay are already operating, although it’s unclear how Facebook would fulfil purchases. The company has previously intimated it wasn’t interested in the payments business. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested in January the company could potentially partner with Apple Pay as part of Messenger’s e-commerce push. He also said Facebook wouldn’t look to make money off transactions, but would look to become a hub for commerce in order to boost advertising.  

Facebook has new plans for e-commerce too. Included in the software are prompts for users to tap “suggested businesses.” By “suggesting” businesses–possibly based on which Pages users have liked–Messenger appears to be trying to solve the significant question of how users will discover companies to chat with on the platform.

This feature also opens the doors for how Facebook can make money off businesses in Messenger: Businesses could promote themselves as a “suggested business” just like they can pay for search ads on Google or promoted pages on News Feed.

The team at Messenger also appears to be preparing features to make the app a bigger part of users’ lives, like syncing calendars, sharing parts of articles and writing status updates that would typically go in News Feed.

Today, a handful of businesses—like clothing makers Everlane and Zulily or phone carrier Sprint—mostly use Messenger to handle customer service interactions and help customers track shipped orders. People can’t yet use Messenger to pay for items when chatting with businesses. But the software suggests an unreleased feature will support online shopping through Messenger: among the commands we spotted was one that lets users "talk to the seller and pay for items in Messenger."

Separately, representatives from Messenger have been meeting with retailers to get e-commerce companies hooked on the app as a hub for shopping and deliveries, not just chatting between friends. “Facebook is telling companies they have an agenda for the future,” said a person who works with several retailers approached by the company.

The team at Messenger also appears to be preparing features to make the app a bigger part of users’ lives, like syncing calendars, sharing parts of articles and writing status updates that would typically go in News Feed. The code shows a prompt saying "This lets Messenger add events to your calendar, help you organise your day and more” and “swipe right to move to the next link.”

Messenger’s team is also building out new features to spur more sharing between friends. The code shows prompts that say, “New! Share updates throughout the day with only your favorite people” and “New! Share quotes from articles.”

Cory Weinberg has been a reporter at The Information since 2015. He covers technology, real estate, travel, transportation and venture capital. He can be found on Twitter @coryweinberg.
Amir Efrati is executive editor at The Information, which he helped to launch in 2013. Previously he spent nine years as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, reporting on white-collar crime and later about technology. He can be reached at [email protected] and is on Twitter @amir