Chat Is the Way to Pay

More than just a credit card replacement

It has now been a year since Kik launched the Bot Shop, and I’m more than happy with how far chatbots have come in that time. We’ve seen tens of thousands of chatbots built for Kik, and our users have exchanged billions of messages with them. Six chatbots already have more than a million users. But there’s a lot more to be done. Any successful platform must help developers build, grow, and monetize — and we’re still missing that final piece.

We want our chatbot developers to make money so that the ecosystem can grow and thrive. At the moment, it’s like we’re in the period when Apple’s App Store didn’t have in-app purchases. In those days, there were few useful apps, and it was all but impossible to build a business within the App Store. A decade later, Apple pays billions of dollars to app developers every year. The App Store has given birth to multiple billion-dollar, mobile-first businesses.

But the big thing I’ve been thinking about recently is the future of payments. As ever, my thoughts keep returning to WeChat. While services like Apple Pay and Android Pay are on a mission to replace the credit card, WeChat has introduced something fundamentally new. It isn’t just creating a way to exchange currency for goods or services; it has placed payments within an ecosystem that both facilitates and improves the transaction.

One of WeChat’s key advantages is that it can add interactions into the payments flow. For instance, in WeChat, you can read a restaurant’s menu, order what you want to eat, and then pay, all through a chatbot. With mobile-first payment services like Apple Pay or Android Pay, you can only do the “pay” part, which credit cards already handle well. At Kik, we’ve already seen the power of these interaction-plus-payment flows through trials we’ve done at fast food restaurants. You sit down, scan a code, tell the bot what you want, and then the food is delivered to your table. At the end, you just walk away. The experience is almost magical. One reporter described it as being like the first time she used Uber.

The impact WeChat has had on transactions through these methods in China has been profound. Three years ago, WeChat was responsible for roughly zero percent of mobile transactions in China. Today, it accounts for about 40 percent. Its rival Alibaba’s Alipay, meanwhile, fell from 80 percent to 40 percent in the same period.

What this all looks like in the long run is an interesting question. We know that others are working on payments for chat. There has already been talk of Facebook introducing “native payments” for Messenger at F8, and Snapchat offers a prototypical service called Snapcash. There’ll be more experiments to come.

We’ve got a few ideas of our own for what chat payments can look like, and we can’t wait to show them to the world. We don’t envisage a way to just replace the credit card. Instead, we want to unleash the power of chat to fuse interactions and transactions into a completely new payments experience.

So, while the first year of chatbots has been great — we’ve taken care of the “build” and “grow” parts of the ecosystem — the second year is going to be even better. This is the year that we will address the “monetize” part. That’s when things get exciting, and we think it will usher in a whole new era for chat. The opportunity to be the WeChat of the West remains as wide open as ever.