To enable iPhone users to communicate directly with businesses from iMessage, Apple is all set to roll out a new feature called ‘Business Chat’ in coming months.
The feature, announced last year, will allow consumers to talk to businesses’ service representative, schedule an appointment or make purchases using in-built Apple Pay in the messaging app.
“This feature will be launched in beta with the public availability of iOS 11.3 this spring,” Apple said in a statement.
Initially, Apple users will be able to chat directly with selected companies, including Wells Fargo, Lowe’s, Hilton and Discover, through the iMessage app. Apple is likely to add more companies post-launch. The tech giant doesn’t share the user’s contact information with businesses and allows users to stop chatting at any given time.
The move represents a major push by Apple to shift B2C communications, payments, and customer service to its own messaging platform. With business facing chat interface, Apple is challenging other business messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Google, Twitter, and WhatsApp, which has recently launched a dedicated platform for businesses.
The move is also seen as a part of Apple’s strategy to take on WhatsApp Business and Facebook Messenger. Both the messaging apps are the most sought after instant messaging apps in India.
On January 23, WhatsApp launched WhatsApp Business, which offers a tool for small business enterprises (SME) to let them communicate to clients without any hassles and grow their business. WhatsApp Business also allows users to send greetings messages to new customers and set away messages when the companies are busy.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp with a user base of 200 million.
According to research analytics company Stastista, both claim to have a user base of 1.3 billion as on September 2017. Facebook Messenger last year claimed that it has 52 million active businesses which were using Messenger to reach customers.
In India, where the numbers of Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) are aplenty, demand for Business Apps is on rising. About 63 per cent of the people said their messaging with businesses had increased over the past two years, as per a Facebook-commissioned study by Nielsen. In 2017, over 330 million people connected with a small business on Messenger for the first time.