Finding experimental features hidden in code is like reviewing patents for clues as to a company’s future plans. Given that most trialed ideas—let alone patented ones that never get to trials—are never productized. That said, code in a product suggests a somewhat more serious interest. And it was inside code of the latest version of Facebook’s Messenger that Facebook planted some hints of plans to enable in-store payments.
To be fair, there’s as yet no concrete details about how this may materialize nor how Facebook would fulfill in-store product purchases. Still, it’s intriguing.
“Tucked inside the code for Facebook’s Messenger are clues for how the chat app plans to become a marketplace, including an unreleased feature that lets people use the app to buy things in stores,” said a story in The Information. “But the unreleased features suggest Messenger’s push to shape itself as a social commerce platform is accelerating more quickly than previously known. And the interest in store purchases is notable. The software includes commands allowing a user to ‘pay in person’ or ‘pay directly in Messenger when you pick up the item’ with ‘no cash needed.’ One developer who has worked with Facebook said Messenger has a large team working on integrating online and offline services, like using the app for purchasing items in retail stores.”
As opposed to being a rival to Apple Pay, the story pointed out that it might simply be an Apple Pay partner. “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested in January the company could potentially partner with Apple Pay as part of Messenger’s e-commerce push,” the story noted.
At this stage, nothing can be ruled out. No one prepares to partner with Apple without having sketched out very precise backup plans of competing with Apple. (OK, some startups may not, but they tend to not last very long.) Facebook might indeed opt to go it alone.