Last year, Apple released Business Chat, a new feature in iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4 that really didn’t get the attention that it truly deserved. Perhaps it was the name “Business Chat” that made it sound stuffy and boring, perhaps Apple didn’t go far enough in explaining it, or maybe it was simply the fact that it didn’t support a lot of businesses out of the gate. Either way, however, it’s ended up being one of iMessage’s most underrated features.
Of course, since it was only available for a limited number of businesses in the U.S., most users could be forgiven for not even knowing that it was there, much less what to actually do with it, but the premise of the feature was actually a really good one — allow users to easily chat with customer service and tech support representatives from various companies using the same Messages app that’s already built into their iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
No need to install a specialized customer service app, no need to navigate through often-complicated web pages — users could just use the messaging tool that they’re already familiar with, and initiate a new business chat from any number of entry points such as Maps, Spotlight and Siri search results, or web-page links in Safari. Plus, businesses and users alike automatically inherited all of iMessage’s advanced features; Tapbacks, emojis, links, documents, media, and even animated GIFs can all be shared in a Business Chat just as easily as in any other iMessage conversation.
The Exclusive Business Chat Club
Despite this, however, Business Chat has still suffered from one big limitation: a lack of companies actually participating in the service. It initially launched with Apple itself on board (of course), as well as Discover, Hilton, Home Depot, Lowe’s Marriott, Newegg, TD Ameritrade, Wells Fargo, and 1-800-Flowers. This later expanded to a couple of dozen additional companies, including major U.S. carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as additional hotel chains like Four Seasons and Fairmont, and even the clothing brand Burberry (although we’re fairly sure Angela Ahrendts erstwhile status as a Senior VP at Apple had something to do with that).
Nonetheless, even with the expanded list, Business Chat remained the sole domain of the Fortune 500 club; it was a great solution if you needed to talk with one of the companies that supported it, but smaller retailers, both online and offline, were simply left out entirely.
Presumably, implementing Business Chat requires some degree of effort on the part of those companies that want to join, which may be part of the reason why it’s been so limited thus far — and, technically, according to Apple it’s also still in “beta.”
However, Apple has now found a solution to allow smaller online retailers to participate, including those outside of the U.S., in well-known Canadian e-commerce provider Shopify. Rather than building out a simpler Business Chat infrastructure at this point, partnering with Shopify allows Apple to tie-in Business Chat on Shopify’s e-commerce systems, thereby making it available to over 820,000 merchants in one fell swoop.
According to Engadget, the service has been in limited testing with merchants like HODINKEE and State Bicycle for a while now, and as of today Apple and Shopify are ready to pull the trigger and let all Shopify sellers take advantage of using iMessage to communicate with their customers. Customers will be able to click a “Messages” button that will appear on Shopify store pages, and merchants will install the Shopify Ping app to communicate with customers and manage chats.
As an added bonus, customers of Shopify merchants will also gain the ability to use Apple Pay right in the middle of a conversation in situations where a store rep links the user to a particular item. So, for example, a customer could be looking for a clothing article in a specific size and colour, the rep could provide a direct link, and the customer could compete the purchase via Apple Pay right away, without even leaving the conversation.
While many Shopify businesses already use Facebook Messenger, the ability to use iMessage Business Chat will provide a new avenue with tighter iOS integration, as well as an option for the increasing number of users who are now eschewing Facebook in light of the seemingly-continuous privacy scandals that keep plaguing the social media giant.