For some time, Facebook has been looking at initiating a revenue model for WhatsApp, its popular messaging app, which is being used by over 1 billion active users daily. On 18th Jan, it finally launched the WhatsApp Business app and followed it up with the India launch on 24th Jan.
Essentially meant to provide a dedicated platform to small businesses and its customers, the app is currently available free to download from Google Play store in India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the UK and the US. WhatsApp had said that it will be rolled out around the world in the coming weeks.
According to the company, WhatsApp Business app will make it "easier for companies to connect with customers, and more convenient for our 1.3 billion users to chat with businesses that matter to them."
The WhatsApp Business app is presently available only for small and medium enterprises (SME) that can use the tools and features to connect with their customers. The wider rollout will be joined by larger enterprises such as airlines, bank institutions and e-commerce firms. The company has been running a pilot for the app with select Indian businesses like Make my Trip and Book My Show since last year. Now it is gradually getting new companies into the fold.
According to WhatsApp, people all around the world use WhatsApp to connect with small businesses they care about from online clothing companies in India to auto parts stores in Brazil. For regular users, the new WhatsApp Business app launch doesn't change anything. People will continue to have full control over the messages they receive, with the ability to block any number, including businesses, as well as report spam.
On its blog, WhatsApp explains the features that come inside the new WhatsApp Business app.
After downloading and installing the free WhatsApp Business app from Google Play store, businesses can register on WhatsApp Business using a number that is different from the number used in WhatsApp Messenger. Businesses can even use their landline numbers to register themselves on WhatsApp Business.
As we said, the Google Play listing of the app says that users can run both WhatsApp Messenger and WhatsApp Business apps on the same phone, however, each app must have a number different from the other one. Features such as free calls, international messaging, group chats, and offline messages have been retained from WhatsApp Messenger.
For over 80% of small businesses in India, it’s WhatsApp that helps to communicate with customers and grow their business.
WhatsApp had previously announced the app’s arrival, and begun verifying business accounts as part of its WhatsApp Business pilot program back in September 2017. Verified accounts were given a green checkmark to show that they are authentic business accounts. At that time, the company had stated that the Business app will later be joined by an enterprise solution aimed at large businesses with a global customer base – like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks.
In India, it started a collaboration with online ticketing platform BookMyShow in September 2017. As a result, BookMyShow besides becoming the first Indian online ticketing brand in the WhatsApp business pilot, it also made WhatsApp a default ticket confirmation channel for all its users.
According to an ET report, there were several Indian startups that were part of early pilots for WhatsApp Business such as online pharmacy 1mg, besides Bookmyshow.com. While globally, the trials included the Dutch airline - KLM and Itau Bank in Brazil.
While the current set of features will remain free in the long term, WhatsApp plans on charging for additional capabilities in the future, working on a freemium model. Also, while Android is its priority as their research with businesses indicated that it is the most widely used platform, it intends to support other platforms in the future.
Considering its 200 Million users in India, WhatsApp has seen a good traction of WhatsApp Business in India so far. Currently, the WhatsApp platform is used by many small businesses in India to convert clients and drive sales. As per a media report, in India, 84% of SMBs think that WhatsApp helps them communicate with customers.
With BookMyShow and even MakeMyTrip in the loop, WhatsApp Business seems to be gearing up for a big play in business and ecommerce as well as monetising its platform. Here’s a list of features that we at Intermind think should be available in the paid version of the tool: