SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney) — Emoticons are nice, but cash is better. In addition to texts, photos and stickers, you can now send money directly to your friends over Facebook Messenger, the company announced Tuesday.
The new feature should be easy to use. To send money, users just tap the dollar sign button at the bottom of a Messenger conversation and enter an amount. After clicking Pay, the money is transferred. A pin number can be added for extra security. The service is free, but a debit card is required the first time its used.
The service is only meant for sending money between friends, say when splitting a big bar tab or buying a used sofa from cousin Garry. Facebook said it cannot be used by businesses.
This isn’t just a helpful new feature, it’s the first step towards Facebook becoming an e-commerce hub. Once Facebook has payment information on file, it can push other one-click purchases and services.
Not having to enter payment and shipping information each time you order socks on Amazon or buy an album from iTunes takes away a major barrier for purchases, and helps move large amounts of product to repeat customers.
Facebook’s next offering could be services like virtual items (movies, music, games) or shopping options for physical goods. It could also be an appealing option for advertisers interested in selling directly on Facebook.
The payment feature is similar to stand-alone apps like PayPal’s Venmo, Square Cash and SnapCash, which let you pay people directly without hitting the ATM or writing a check. Because you’re already connected to your network of friends and family on Facebook, the tool could make it somewhat easier to make these kinds of payments.
Facebook has dabbled in money before. In 2009 it launched Facebook Credits, a Facebook-only currency that members could use to pay for games and other virtual goods. The site killed the feature in 2012 but continued to make transactions in local currencies. Facebook says it handles more than a million transactions daily. Last year it tested a “Buy” button in some news feeds.
The Messenger payments feature does not work with credit cards or PayPal, and money might take up to three days to show up, depending on the bank. The feature will only be available in the U.S. to start. but will work on both iOS and Android devices. It will roll out over the next few months.