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DBS Bank initiative Foodster allows customers to pre-order and pay for food and drinks with Facebook Messenger

Online chat has become more than just for chit-chat.

An initiative by DBS Bank - a first in Singapore - allows consumers to skip the regular queue, pre-order and pay for food and drinks with Facebook Messenger.

Payment is cashless via the DBS PayLah! e-wallet or DBS or POSB credit or debit cards.

Consumers can even customise their orders, such as requesting less sugar or more milk in their coffee or tea - simply by chatting with a chatbot that represents participating restaurants.

Dubbed DBS Foodster, the initiative takes aim at the global US$112 billion ($154.5 billion) e-commerce market, which Juniper Research estimated would be serviced by chatbots in 2023.

"If instant messaging is the way for people to communicate, then we need to help businesses find a way to engage their customers on such platforms," said Mr Jeremy Soo, head of consumer banking group (Singapore) at DBS Bank.

There is no need to download a specific app to order ahead at participating restaurants.

DBS has chosen to work with Facebook as the social media giant has some 4.1 million users in Singapore, providing a tech-savvy base for a target.

The bank itself has over four million debit and credit cards in circulation and over 1 million PayLah! e-wallet users. PayLah! users just need to top up their e-wallet via any Singapore bank account.

Seven food and beverage outlets at Consumer Banking Group are the first to have come on board DBS Foodster, some of which started as early as August this year. They are the cafes Gemstar, Kopi Ong, Local Coffee People and Old Tea Hut, and the eateries Omnivore, Nude Seafood and Subway. Kopitiam, which will open at the new Funan mall next year, will soon join the Foodster programme.

Searching for any outlet on Messenger can be done by entering its name with a "Foodster" suffix such as "Kopi Ong Foodster". Depending on the order, consumers can pick it up in 10 to 20 minutes after payment.

Entrepreneur John Chen, 39, said he usually orders his morning cuppa while parking his car to save time.

"By the time I walk to Kopi Ong, my order is ready," he said.

Lawyer Leslie Fu, 30, said a messaging platform is "more intuitive" than a website or an app. She said she could browse a full menu and customise orders with just a few clicks.

Mr Paz Then, co-founder of Omnivore, said his customers now order earlier at 11.30am, allowing the peak hour workload for his kitchen staff to be spread out. In the past, customers showed up only at noon.

Mr Alfred Tan, director of Kopi Ong, said that Foodster accounts for more than 15 per cent of orders. Promotions can be automatically redeemed on the chat platform, a feature that Mr Tan will use "during off-peak hours to fill up the lulls".