clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Facebook Is Getting Serious About Payments (Q&A)

We learned something this month: Payments are getting big for Facebook.


If the past month is any indication, Facebook is no longer dipping its toe into commerce — it’s jumping right in.

A handful of updates in the last few weeks, including a peer-to-peer payments feature within the Messenger app, demonstrate just how serious Facebook is when it comes to helping its users pay for goods using the social network.

At the F8 developer conference this week, Facebook also showed off Businesses on Messenger, a way for users to text back and forth with a retailer and also do things like change an existing order or track shipping. The company is also moving forward on its “Buy” button test in News Feed — we came across our first instance of that in the wild this week, too.

It’s not as though Facebook hasn’t tried commerce before. It used to let users buy digital and physical gifts through the service, but those efforts were cut short last year. Now it’s making another run at helping users spend their money.

At F8, Re/code sat down with Deb Liu, Facebook’s head of platform who oversees both payments and commerce, to hear more about the company’s payments features. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Re/code: There are a lot of peer-to-peer payments companies already out there. Why jump into that market?

Deb Liu: [Messenger] is the place where people are already planning things, people are already [organizing] dinner together, people are already meeting up. It used to be you’d have these conversation face to face and I’d just hand you $20 in cash. [With Messenger] you’re already in the conversation. How do you do the next step to complete the transaction instead of saying here’s some other thing you need to do, or drop me a check, or go to this other service? This is really in the natural flow of conversation.

How do you evolve the product and continue to keep its simplicity?

One of the things we want to do is put products out there and we seed them with a few ideas. Each of our products then evolves from there. Maybe it didn’t work for paying my PTA dues because I wasn’t friends with that person. Then we’ll think, “Is that a use case that we want to support?” You’ll see the evolution of our product follow what people want.

You just announced a Platform for Messenger. Will developers be able to build payments tools into Messenger?

Right now it’s purely within the Messenger product so it’s just [peer-to-peer] payments. We don’t rule out anything right now. It just started rolling out so we want to understand where that’s going to go in the future.

The payments for businesses feature you just launched lets users chat with retailers and even change existing orders. Will I be able to place orders or pay through Messenger in the future?

It’s very possible. We focused [Messenger] payments on person-to-person [for now]. So you and your friends or someone you need to return money to. But we’re also testing Buy on Facebook which is another way you can engage in commerce. Really what we’re trying to do is figure out what people are trying to do and how do we make it the easiest way possible.

The stance from Facebook is that it isn’t a payments business. What’s the difference between a payments business and offering a payments feature?

We see Payments as an enabling tool. Our core business is not payments, but it’s an enablement to making [other parts of our business] like games work. We’re not in the business of driving as many transactions as possible, it’s enabling as many opportunities as possible. We didn’t just build [peer-to-peer payments] for the sake of becoming a giant P-to-P company.

So do you view this as a big business opportunity for Facebook then?

If there’s a lot of transactions, that’s great. But at the same time our goal is not solely to do that. It’s a free product, we don’t specifically make money from that. But it helps people engage more on Messenger. So then you want to start your next thread on Messenger when planning a trip because it’s really easy to [pay your friends].

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.