Online chat has become more than just for chit-chat.
An initiative by DBS Bank - a first in Singapore - allows consumers to skip the regular queue, pre-order and pay for food and drinks with Facebook Messenger.
Payment is cashless via the DBS PayLah! e-wallet or DBS and POSB credit or debit cards.
Consumers can even customise their orders, such as requesting less sugar or more milk in their coffee or tea - simply by chatting with a chatbot that represents participating restaurants.
Dubbed DBS Foodster, the initiative takes aim at the global US$112 billion ($154.5 billion) e-commerce market, which Juniper Research estimated would be serviced by chatbots in 2023.
"If instant messaging is the way for people to communicate, then we need to help businesses find a way to engage their customers on such platforms," said Mr Jeremy Soo, head of Consumer Banking Group (Singapore) at DBS Bank.
There is no need to download a specific app to order ahead at participating restaurants, indicating that the bank recognises app fatigue among consumers.
DBS has chosen to work with Facebook as the social media giant has some 4.1 million users in Singapore, providing a tech-savvy base for a target.
If instant messaging is the way for people to communicate, then we need to help businesses find a way to engage their customers on such platforms.
MR JEREMY SOO, head of Consumer Banking Group (Singapore) at DBS Bank.
The bank itself has over four million debit and credit cards in circulation and over one million PayLah! e-wallet users. PayLah! users just need to top up their e-wallet via any Singapore bank account.
Seven food and beverage outlets at Marina Bay Link Mall are the first to have come on board DBS Foodster, some of which started as early as August this year. They are the cafes Gemstar, Kopi Ong, Local Coffee People and Old Tea Hut, and the eateries Omnivore, Nude Seafood and Subway. Kopitiam, which will open at the new Funan mall next year, will soon join the Foodster programme.
Searching for any outlet on Messenger can be done by entering its name with a "Foodster" suffix, such as "Kopi Ong Foodster".
Depending on the order, consumers can typically pick it up in 10 to 20 minutes after payment.
Entrepreneur John Chen, 39, said he usually orders his morning cuppa when parking his car to save time. "By the time I walk to Kopi Ong, my order is ready," he said.
Lawyer Lesley Fu, 30, said a messaging platform is "more intuitive" than a website or an app, adding that she could browse a full menu and customise orders with just a few clicks.
Mr Paz Then, co-founder of Omnivore, said his customers now order lunch earlier at 11.30am, allowing the peak-hour workload for kitchen staff to be spread out. In the past, customers showed up only at noon.
Mr Alfred Tan, director of Kopi Ong, said that Foodster accounts for more than 15 per cent of all his orders. Promotions can be automatically redeemed on the chat platform, a feature which Mr Tan said he will be using "during off-peak hours to fill up the lulls".
Juniper Research estimated that by 2023, the use of chatbots will bring US$11 billion in combined customer service manpower cost savings for the retail, banking and healthcare business sectors. The savings will increase from about US$6 billion this year.