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Surprising things you can buy from Facebook chatbots

Brady Porche

Facebook has built its massive success on interactions between people, but now chatty robots are taking over.

In September, the social media network announced users of its Messenger app will soon be able to buy products directly from “chatbots” — text-messaging automatons that interact with users on behalf of stores, restaurants, websites and other entities. Users have been able to order things via Messenger for several months, but with the newest update you won’t even have to leave the app to complete a purchase. By clicking on a new “buy now” button, a checkout tab is displayed, and you are one click away from placing the order, if your card information is already stored in Facebook.

But what can you actually buy from these bots? Relatively few of the 30,000 or so chatbots on Messenger sell stuff, and most others range from helpful to silly — American Express has a bot that allows you to review your recent card purchases, while another dedicated to Chuck Norris jokes will make you feel like it’s 2006 all over again. The list of peddler-bots is sure to grow, however, as Facebook gradually rolls out its new payment option. Here are some of the most interesting things you can order now:

Pizza, wings and food truck fare
Messenger could become a hotspot for restaurateurs seeking an innovative way to take orders, but only a few major chains have built bots thus far. Dominos is slinging its pies through a chatbot, with rival Pizza Hut soon to follow. Chicken wing joint WingStop has been taking orders on Facebook and Twitter since June.

Perhaps most fascinating is a chatbot called Entrée, which allows you to find nearby food trucks and place orders ahead of time. This bot is a work in progress — I texted the address of the office in Austin, Texas, but all the food trucks supported by the app were concentrated in an area too far for my convenience. In addition, there are some trucks for which it doesn’t take direct orders, instead giving you the truck’s phone number, which is still convenient.

Want to wash down your pizza and wing feast with a cold one, but don’t want to interrupt a Messenger chat with your best bro to make a beer run? Available to New York City residents, the chatbot BrewBot was built to “help you explore, discover and order new types of beer that fit your palate,” according to its website. BrewBot helps you choose a brew based on what flavors you’re into and what food you want to pair it with. Best of all, you can have your selection delivered to your door just by texting a beer emoji to the bot.

Custom postcard
Sending a postcard seems quaint in the social media age, but the chatbot Courier puts a modern twist on it. Courier allows you to send a custom postcard by snapping a photo on your smartphone and texting it and the recipient’s address, along with a brief message, to the bot.

If you are suddenly reminded of a friend’s birthday or other special occasion while scrolling through your newsfeed, but you haven’t gotten them a gift, not to worry. 1-800-Flowers has a chatbot from which you can order flowers and send them to a loved one or a friend.

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