Apple’s latest keynote ushered in the era of Apple as a Services Company. The introduction of Apple News+, Apple TV+, Apple Card, and Apple Arcade on top of the already existing Apple Music, iCloud, and Apple Care. But the service everyone seems to be short-changing as the true dark horse of Apple services is Apple Business Chat.
Introduced in 2017 to a select number of retailers, Apple Business Chat opened up the coveted iMessage platform to retailers (and their developers) to create personalized messaging experiences for their customers. Some of the first retailers involved were: The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Newegg, and 1-800-Flowers.
Oddly, the feature hasn’t gained much fanfare to the public, even though the service is adding major retailers constantly. Those that have since followed behind:
MLB All-Star Game, DISH Network, Aramark, 1800 Contacts, Mall of America, Men’s Wearhouse, Jos A. Bank, Delta, Overstock.com, Quicken Loans, Harry & David, Four Seasons, Hilton, Marriott, T-Mobile, Sprint, Wells Fargo, Discover, and others.
Some of the more notable use cases:
- Cavaliers fans can order beers right from their seats at Quicken Loans Arena
- American Express users can get immediate, in-message account inquiries
- Anyone can get stock quotes, learn how to invest, and track the markets from TD Ameritrade texts
- Anyone can order all types of bouquets from 1-800-Flowers
And it’s so easy to start a chat with any business (that has this enabled).
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all is their integration with Shopify Ping – granting more than 820,000 Shopify merchants the ability to chat and text with their customers on iMessage. If Apple keeps making moves like this and offering more and more ways for businesses to automate and improve their Business Chat experience, then they’re going to squash all the small competition in text message marketing out there.
In marketing, text messaging is the most underutilized, highest opportunity channel today.
- 90% of text messages are opened in the first 3 minutes (email is just 20% ever)
- 82% of people open every text message they receive
- The response rate of SMS text message marketing is 45% vs email at 6%
Celebrities have started using text message marketing. Politicians love using text messaging for campaigns (sometimes to no avail). Heck, even a few of my favorite restaurants (and bars) around town send me deals and allow me to order via text.
It’s such an untapped channel, with immense opportunity, given how much care we all give to our texts (especially in comparison to our news feeds and email).
This is why every major tech company is doubling down on messaging. Facebook plans to merge its three messaging platforms (Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram) so that users can cross-pollinate. Google is creating the unified Android antichrist to iMessage in a messenger called Chat. Slack, which is a business messaging competitor, is worth $18 Billion. And dozens and dozens of text message marketing companies exist for this very reason.
However, I don’t think there is anyone positioned quite like Apple.
The Apple Advantage
There are a few clear advantages that Apple has in the space today:
Where Apple wins is that they allow companies to brand the iMessage experience. There’s a big difference between the standard American Airlines SMS marketing message experience:
And 1-800-Flowers who has Apple Business Chat:
Apple Business Chat integrates with dozens of existing customer service applications – IMImobile, Nuance, 247.ai, Shopify, etc… This makes it incredibly easy to add Business Chat to the repertoire.
iPhone is already winning because they know if you’re signing up to chat via iMessage, then you have a smartphone that can handle whatever multimedia experience a company will send you. Regular old SMS text message marketing doesn’t have that confidence.
Oh yeah, and Apple already has a secure payment system for purchase verification that doesn’t need to pass through any third-party.
Betting Big on Business Chat
I’ve talked before about how Facebook provides enough capabilities across their apps for a business to run entirely on the Facebook properties – from advertising to customer service to order fulfillment. This is something that Facebook (and Instagram) have really done well.
Apple is positioning itself very similarly, starting with the brand to consumer communication. I think these two companies are going to duke it out in this space.
However, don’t forget that Apple owns the hardware and software. They’re battling on Apple’s turf. iMessage is perhaps the most valued and sacred app on the iPhone – so much so that iMessage is one of the major selling points for people switching over from Android. Apple is playing a long game here, which is smart. If they pull this off, then iMessage could be the IT place to be for brands of all types.
I don’t think it would be that bizarre to see Apple servicing more needs of small and medium-sized businesses in the future. Perhaps offering a place on iMessage to create storefronts or even advertise. Ten years from now, iMessage might be a completely new ecosystem with unbelievable commercial use cases – especially if they’re are looking to China for inspiration on mobile messaging innovation.
Also, I feel like it’s almost inevitable that we’ll eventually get FaceTime Business Chat.