Messaging app Kik has launched an online store for chatbots, to allow brands to talk to users via bots.
Chatbots – computer programs designed to simulate conversation with humans – are increasingly being seen as a key way to engage customers.
Kik, which has 275 million users, has signed up 16 partners including make-up store Sephora and The Weather Channel.
Microsoft opened a chatbot store last week and Facebook is expected to follow suit.
In Kik’s store, users will be able to download bots for entertainment, customer service and shopping.
Developers will also be able to access the platform to build bots on behalf of brands.
Other businesses signed up include video app Vine, fashion store H&M and comedy website Funny or Die.
Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messenger services, told Adweek: “Messengers are the new browser and bots are the new websites.”
Messaging apps such as Kik, WhatsApp and WeChat are rapidly becoming the preferred methods of communication for young people – and about 40% of Kik’s user base is aged 18 to 24.
Retailers and brands are seeing the huge potential of messaging apps as distribution channels.
Chatbots allow brands and retailers to interact with customers but their creators say they can also benefit consumers, offering personalised recommendations, completing purchases and tracking orders.
They are not without risk though. Last week Microsoft was forced to remove its artificial intelligence chatbot Tay from Twitter after users taught it to deny the Holocaust and swear.
The software giant remains convinced that the future will be about people talking to chatbots and at its Build conference unveiled a set of tools to let anyone create one.
It demonstrated how the system could be used to order a pizza and make a hotel booking.
It is widely rumoured that Facebook will open a chatbot store on Messenger at its F8 conference next week.
The firm is already developing an all-purpose digital assistant for its messaging app, called M. The aim will be for M to book flights and complete other tasks using a combination of artificial intelligence and human input.
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