With 1.5 billion active users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging applications in the world, so it’s not surprising to hear them wanting to capitalise on this popularity with WhatsApp Commerce.
Despite launching a decade ago, WhatsApp has always been reluctant to allow large businesses to communicate with end users via the platform so as not to disrupt their experience. After all, the app prides itself on being a simple and secure way for users to communicate with their friends and family. Not even WhatsApp can see your messages, so the idea of bringing businesses in to disrupt the status quo has previously been a bit of a touchy subject. That was until last year when WhatsApp launched the WhatsApp Business App and the WhatsApp Business API.
WhatsApp Business App
A free to download app in a similar format to the original application, this was built to help small businesses connect with their customers. Businesses can set up a profile with all their relevant information – such as address, description and website – and are able to automate messages and quickly respond to their customers. The app also allows you to organise and label your chats so you can differentiate between customer needs while also being able to see statistics on how well your business is communicating.
The WhatsApp Business App is the ideal solution for small businesses wanting an easy way to communicate with their customers and is essentially an easy-to-use CRM that you can carry around in your pocket. It makes you easily accessible and builds credibility; it’s a win-win.
WhatsApp Business API
The WhatsApp Business API also launched late last year and focuses more on medium to large scale businesses. Due to WhatsApp’s keen desire to keep the current high-quality experience for users, the API is still under restricted early access, meaning in order to use the API, businesses must apply for formal approval. Each business will also need to have a dedicated server to host the API down to WhatsApp’s huge emphasis on security and privacy, though they do allow third-party developers to help businesses adopt the API quickly and efficiently.
The API acts as a primary way for enterprise businesses to interact with their customers in a similar way to the WhatsApp Business App. Before messaging can commence, each business must have clear opt-in messaging in place and users must actively opt-in to receiving messages via the platform by consenting through a third-party channel such as a website or through email. Again, this is WhatsApp being extremely cautious as not to disrupt the user experience of the app and make them fully aware what they are signing up for.
This API provides businesses with the potential to reach customers on a whole new level. While at the moment it acts as more of a customer service messaging tool, the potential for this to develop into a commerce platform is substantial and could change the way we shop completely.
Example of how WhatsApp Commerce could work
At the Facebook F8 developer conference in April of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced a feature called ‘Product Catalogs’ for the WhatsApp Business API. Although not many details were released, Zuckerberg did elude to users of the app being able to browse and purchase products through the app in the future.
Zuckerberg also gave brief details on a WhatsApp payment system, allowing users to send money to each other in a similar fashion to PayPal. This native payment system is currently being tested in India with more than 1million users and also allows payments in a variety of cases such as banking and ecommerce. This could be a huge change to the platform and will allow companies to offer a much more convenient way for their customers to make purchases via the app, though it’s unlikely this will be rolled out worldwide for quite some time as WhatsApp judges whether it will negatively impact user experience.
That’s not to say this is a ground-breaking idea. China’s WeChat uses a very similar system that connects customers to businesses via the messaging app, throwing commerce into the mix. Customers can scan a QR code at a restaurant, order their food and pay for it all using the WeChat app. Is it possible we could see WhatsApp heading down the same route? Potentially, but it is worth noting that all of this is in its very early stages and WhatsApp is notorious for putting its users first, even if it means they lose out on a potentially hugely profitable endeavour. It is a messaging app at its core, after all.
What does this mean for you?
Well, if you’re a business, WhatsApp Commerce should definitely be on your radar. If it gets the go-ahead and we start to see purchases being made via the platform, you’ll want to be on it fast. In the meantime, if you’re a small business and haven’t already downloaded WhatsApp Business App – get on it. For medium to larger scale businesses, now is the perfect time to submit your business for consideration for the WhatsApp Business API.
Our ecommerce experts are hot on the tail of any new developments and can help you develop a digital strategy that includes the likes of WhatsApp Commerce. For more information, get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 0121 369 5874.