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What does WhatsApp's latest business messaging service in India entail?

As advertising stalls, parent company Meta seeks to tap its messaging service's biggest market of 400 million monthly users to boost revenue

Varsha Meghani
Published: Sep 21, 2023 02:32:39 PM IST
Updated: Sep 21, 2023 02:41:37 PM IST

What does WhatsApp's latest business messaging service in India entail?The company has launched Meta Verified for businesses on WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook to let users know that the businesses they are interacting with are validated and authentic. Image: Shutterstock
Hundreds of millions of WhatsApp users will now be able to discover, buy and pay for products and services through the chat app, its parent company Meta’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video address at the company’s second Annual Conversations conference in Mumbai on Wednesday.  
The move is significant as the Facebook owner is increasingly betting on business messaging in addition to its mainstay advertising to drive sales at the $775 million company.  

Q. How is this different from the payments currently allowed on WhatsApp?
Currently WhatsApp allows for peer-to-peer payments through its app. However, Meta was increasingly seeing that India’s 400 million monthly WhatsApp users were not just turning to the messaging service to connect with family and friends, but also to “get things done” such as booking a cab, shopping for groceries, or buying from boutique and big businesses.  

“[But] we haven’t made it easy to discover businesses or buy from them,” Zuckerberg said at a WhatsApp summit in Brazil last year. “As a result, people end up having to use work arounds.” Like chatting with a salesperson on his personal WhatsApp number, selecting a product based on pictures he sends and then logging out of WhatsApp to pay via Google Pay—WhatsApp Pay’s rival in digital payments.  
To achieve the “ultimate goal” of finding, messaging and buying from a business all in the same WhatsApp chat, Zuckerberg announced the launch of three key features.  
Q. What are the features being rolled out?
The first is WhatsApp Flows that will allow businesses to build richer in-chat experiences with users. For example, a bank can build a way for customers to book an appointment to open a new account or an airline can build a way to check-in for a flight, or a food delivery service can build a way for users to place an order from any partner restaurant, explained Zuckerberg. “All this without having to leave the chat thread. Making it easier to complete a purchase directly in the chat,” he noted. Businesses can use Meta’s building blocks to create these unique experiences leading to better engagement with customers who needn’t jump between apps to complete a purchase.  
To that end, WhatsApp has rolled out a payments tool that will make in-app transactions possible via credit cards, debit cards, WhatsApp Pay, as well as rival digital payments providers such as Google Pay, PhonePe and PayTM.  
Finally, the company has launched Meta Verified for businesses on WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook to let users know that the businesses they are interacting with are validated and authentic. Businesses that subscribe will get a verified badge, account support, impersonation protection and additional features that will help people find them more easily.

Also read: Reliance Retail will be our fastest growing business in revenues and Ebitda: Mukesh Ambani
Q. What’s the significance of this roll out?
According to Sandhya Devanathan, already a billion people across the world message a business on Meta’s messaging apps (WhatsApp, Instagram DMs and Facebook Messenger) every week. “This behaviour is accelerating globally with India at the forefront,” she said in an interview.
So far, 200 million businesses globally use WhatsApp for Business monthly—about 5 percent of Meta’s total. It has grown four-fold in two years. While the India figures haven’t been revealed, Devanathan said that in the past year alone, Meta has seen conversations from a user to a business double on WhatsApp.  
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with over 400 million monthly users and it’s a test bed for innovation. Consider how WhatsApp, which invested $5.7 billion in billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s digital unit Jio in 2020, launched its first end-to-end shopping model with its online grocery service JioMart soon after. Last month, Ambani’s daughter Isha, who heads Reliance Retail, which houses JioMart, noted that the number of customers shopping at JioMart inside a WhatsApp chat had increased “9x” since the launch.  
In fact, Zuckerberg began his speech by saying, “[India is] leading the world in terms of how people and businesses have embraced messaging as the better way to get things done.” Besides, with the festive season around the corner, Meta expects business messaging to take off rapidly. In a survey it conducted, it found that 66 percent of Diwali shoppers indicated that they would be more inclined to make a purchase from a business if that business were available on instant messaging.  
Importantly, as advertising stalls at the social media giant, it is looking to facilitate more ecommerce across its platforms as an additional revenue stream. Enabling merchant payments will allow WhatsApp to gather more data and help it better target and personalise existing advertising. Meta expects its experiments in India with business messaging to unfold in other global markets too, besides boosting revenue.   
Q. Where else has business messaging been rolled out?
Meta has rolled out its business messaging service in Singapore and Brazil.  
Last year, Meta piloted a local business directory within WhatsApp in Brazil to help users find and contact local businesses like the neighbourhood coffee shop, florist or clothing store. Then, in April, it introduced the payment tool that it has now launched in India which allows users to pay merchants directly through the app.
Q. How much money is WhatsApp business messaging expected to bring in for Meta?
While businesses will not be charged for the in-app payments, Meta will benefit from the increase in businesses using WhatsApp, who pay to message their customers. Moreover, payments firms will also pay Meta a fee, but those arrangements haven’t been disclosed.  
However, Zuckerberg has previously indicated that paid-for business messaging could be the potential next pillar for Meta. “Messaging,” he said, “is a big opportunity for businesses, big and small.” 

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