Conversational commerce

Messaging apps bring the point of sale to you

Chris Messina
Chris Messina


I’ll keep this post short since it’s simply meant to record a trend I’ve noticed, which may be obvious to others. From Path’s pivot to emphasize Talk, which enables users to message local businesses, to Facebook’s $22B purchase of WhatsApp, to Fetch’s texting shopping assistants or Fancy Hand’s on-demand assistants, to the recent real-time translation innovations in Google Translate, to Ethan’s army of textable Ethans, to Rise, Lark, and Better in the healthcare space, there’s a lot happening in the communications and messaging space.

Path Talk allows users to communicate with businesses via text messaging

In addition, each major player offers voice assistants (Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana), and Google’s Nest can handle voice commands. Even Amazon is getting into the mix with a dedicated device called Echo that captures your every (voice) command, including buying things on Amazon for you.

These and related innovations suggest that conversational commerce” is growing, and concierge-style services may become the primary way in which people transact on their mobile devices. No more tapping and swiping — it’s easier to just hand-off to someone with a computer that’s set up for complex information tasks like online shopping or research.

And just because everyone has a screen in their pocket doesn’t imply that they should be forced to look at it to interact with your service. Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare. I expect more service providers will shift in this direction, becoming more subtle in how they integrate into our lives.


I’ve written a 2016 follow up to this post: 2016 will be the year of conversational commerce.

Ben Eidelson and I participated in a podcast with USA Today on this topic:

Josh Elman explains why Greylock invested in Operator.

Benedict Evans covers this subject on the A16Z podcast: “Messaging is the Medium”.

Magic, Luka, and Chloe are the latest additions to the list of conversational commerce apps.

I’m curating a collection of related products on Product Hunt.

Jonathan Libov shared a related idea on the USV site echoing my sentiments, and the wrote it up in his Future of Text.

That Facebook just acquired, a company offering natural language processing as a service, also supports the relevance of voice and messaging for activity completion.

Annalee Newitz ponders whether there’s a preference for female-voiced digital assistants because they sound more submissive.



Chris Messina
Chris Messina

Inventor of the hashtag. Product therapist. Investor. Previously: Google, Republic, Uber, On Deck, YC W’18.