RCS set for major growth in digital commerce sector – report

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Dec 13, 2023

  • OTT apps will continue to dominate ‘conversational commerce’ sector in the coming years, according to a recent report from Juniper Research
  • But the use and value of Android’s RCS (rich communications services) is to grow significantly during the next five years
  • Meanwhile, iMessage, WhatsApp, Meta’s (Facebook) Messenger and others will always have their devotees
  • Plain vanilla SMS remains the default planetwide mobile messaging technology with tens of billions text messages sent every day
  • The emerging trend is to integrate SMS and RCS to keep consumers ‘engaged’ for longer

OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber and WeChat will continue to dominate the ‘conversational commerce’ sector in the coming five years but will lose market share to growing competition from Android’s RCS (rich communications services), according to a recent report from Juniper Research. 

According to Juniper Research, conversational commerce helps customers throughout an entire purchasing journey, including pre-transaction, where a brand can offer promotions and recommendations to customers, to during transaction, where a customer is making a payment, to post-transaction, which can include delivery updates, customer satisfaction, returns and exchanges: The research house defines it as “The process by which end users of conversational devices, such as smartphones, are able to leverage them for commerce purposes, including retail and banking, through a chat interface.” Conversational commerce takes place across four main types of digital communications platform: Chatbots; OTT (over-the-top) messaging channels; RCS messaging; and voice assistants. And as smartphone use grows and apps become more sophisticated, more and more transactional processes will take place using these platforms. 

According to the authors of the Global Conversational Commerce Market 2023-2028 report, the volume and value of conversational commerce messaging will grow significantly in the coming years, but while OTT messaging will continue to be the most popular conversational commerce channel, it will account for just 45% of the market value by 2028, down from 53% in 2024. 

According to the Juniper Research team, OTT messaging apps will continue to develop and advance to provide interactive calls and “rich media”: Here, rich media is digital truthspeak for advertisements with features that “enhance the consumer experience”, such as video, audio and other elements, to  “encourage” viewers to interact with the content and thus “engage in further commercial activity.” (And there you have it – the latest twist on the old consumerist mantra of ‘work harder, earn more money, buy more things’.)

The report’s authors note that, “OTT messaging apps, being standalone platforms, can move quickly to integrate new technologies, including AI-based personalisation for cross-selling and upselling opportunities. This will be imperative in high-spending industries such as retail, as OTT messaging apps will be deployed as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy alongside messaging channels like RCS.”

The two platforms are not dissimilar. OTT platforms enable enterprises to communicate with their customers via third-party messaging apps while RCS enables enterprises to connect with users via high-quality videos, audio and other attachments, but only on Android devices and via Google servers: It is claimed that RCS capabilities closely match the sort of features available on the likes of Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp and Meta’s (Facebook) Messenger.

However, despite the continuing supremacy of OTT messaging apps, the report also forecasts that conversational commerce spend via RCS will increase significantly during the next five years, growing from $350 mn in 2023 to $12bn in 2028. Apparently, such massive growth will be the result of a plethora of RCS-capable devices flooding the market, helped by increased support for RCS from mobile operators.

The study also finds that the innovative features of RCS, such as brand verification, branded messaging and ‘rich carousels’, will permit operators to compete head-to-head with leading OTT messaging apps thanks to RCS’s improved security and capabilities. This, it says, “will foster consumer trust to engage in more sophisticated messaging use cases, such as conversational commerce.”

By the way, and in case you don’t know (just as I didn’t), ‘rich carousels’ are components of user interfaces that consist of a series of on-screen rich ‘cards’ that can be swiped across horizontally with each card displaying ‘information’ such as text, images and buttons. They can even include suggested replies and actions to keep recipients hooked for longer. 

How things have changed since December 1992

It’s 31 years ago this month – 3 December 1992, in fact – that the then 22-year-old Vodafone software engineer, Neil Papworth, sent the first ever Short Message Service (SMS) text to his colleague Richard Jarvis. It said, simply and appropriately enough, “Merry Christmas”. Within a matter of weeks SMS became available on mobile handsets.

SMS was (and is) quick, cheap and easy to use and is long established as the planet-wide default mobile messaging technology and standard of choice – 18 billion are sent each day. A bit like the Pony Express, SMS messages always get through to their recipient in the end but their features are limited and, as time has passed, apps stores were invented and other messaging services were developed. RCS is the latest, OS-specific iteration of that development pathway.

According to Google, RCS provides a better user experience, better security, better “engagement” and better metrics and it functions much more like an OTT app than an SMS. RCS messages are transmitted either across WiFi or a service provider’s data network connection whereas SMS is carried via the mobile network signalling channel.

The claim is that users are immediately more attracted to RCS than they are to SMS and the richer content is more likely to seduce them into what is coyly referred to as “boosted customer engagement”: In other words, they are more likely to buy something.

In the trade, RCS messages are often said to be “enticing” and RCS is increasingly being used by Android as the default on the Google Messages app. And now, given that all mobile handsets provide an SMS connection and SMS is here to stay, there is a trend to getting SMS and RCS to work together. Then there will be no escape.

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