Chatbots in the West are a relatively new phenomenon. Facebook launched their chatbot platform for Messenger in April 2016, shortly after Microsoft announced support for chatbots in Skype. Apple was even later to the party, announcing their Business Chat platform a few months ago. However, as is more often becoming the norm, the West was soundly beaten by the East in this innovation.

Beating the Valley darlings by three years, Tencent Holdings Ltd, headquartered in Shenzen, China, added support for chatbots to their WeChat platform in 2013.

Tencent dominates the messaging universe in China. Facebook in April this year had 1.2 billion users on Messenger, but WeChat wasn’t far behind with nearly 900 million users. What makes WeChat even more interesting for enterprises thinking about using chatbots in their businesses, is that nearly three-quarters of WeChat users use the payment service built into WeChat: WeChat Pay. It’s estimated that WeChat Pay processed around USD1.2 trillion of transactions in 2016.

Tencent is an enormously successful company. Like Facebook, it has experienced massive growth in a short period of time with a dramatic increase in market cap. Facebook’s gain in share price over five years is just over 376%, and Tencent’s is 550%! Tencent’s revenue has already surpassed better known Chinese internet companies Baidu and Alibaba, with just under USD22 billion for fiscal 2016.

Tencent is taking their platform into Europe in an attempt to bring European products and services to Chinese consumers, rather than allowing platforms from the West to do the same from the other direction. 95% of luxury European brands are already represented.

Tencent recognised early that messaging platforms provided an enormous opportunity to enable consumers to transact with vendors, and with each other, all on a single platform. As they eye expansion into the rest of the world, it will be fascinating to see how the different strategies of Facebook, Apple, and Amazon play out in defending eyeball share, payment fee share, and wallet share.

At Ambit, we are creating conversational user experiences for New Zealand businesses. We are eagerly watching and waiting to see if the tech giants of China will start exploring our shores. We welcome the conversation with Tencent about deploying our bots across their platform, joining Messenger, Skype, Slack and other providers.


By Gareth Cronin, CTO and Co-Founder of Ambit


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