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Chat app Viber hopes you'll shop from its keyboard

It just bought a startup that bakes online stores into its keyboard app.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
July 20, 2017
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If you owned Viber and saw Facebook make a big deal of in-chat shopping, what would you do? Bake shopping into the very heart of your messaging app, apparently. A few months after including an Instant Shopping feature in Viber, parent company Rakuten Viber has snapped up the feature's architect, Chatter Commerce. The deal gives it full control over a keyboard that lets you browse store catalogs and either share them with your friends or commit to a purchase. You don't have to jump to a separate app or the web just to share those great shoes you found.

It's not a shocking move when Rakuten is one of the largest online retailers on the planet and wants to fend off both chat rivals like Facebook and shopping behemoths like Amazon. If you can find what you want right from your phone's keyboard, you're less likely to switch chat apps or link to a competing store.

And despite the in-your-face nature of the keyboard's shopping feature, it has a fair number of takers. The Viber team says that 30 percent of its American users have tried Instant Shopping since launch. The big challenge is keeping your attention: it's easy to try a shopping feature when it's fresh, but it's another to treat it as your go-to option. That's where the acquisition might help. Now that Rakuten Viber owns its shopping keyboard partner, it can improve and grow features on its terms. If it can improve the keyboard and add more shopping partners, you may have more reasons to stick around.

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