Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp has rolled out a feature that connects small businesses with customers, it said late on Thursday. Currently, only Android users can access the feature and they can avail of it through the latest update of the app.
The new feature will be available first in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, UK and the US before being launched globally in the coming weeks.
"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. But WhatsApp was built for people and we want to improve the business experience," the company said in a release.
With the new app, SMBs can build business profiles, access message statistics such as the number of messages sent, and provide quick replies to frequently asked questions.
The new business app will be available in web format just like the main WhatsApp app. Customers will know that they are talking to a business account as they will be listed separately.
"Over time, some businesses will have confirmed accounts once it’s been confirmed that the account phone number matches the business phone number,” the statement said.
According to the company, data collected from SMBs in India in partnership with a Morning Consult study shows that 84% of these small firms think that WhatsApp helps them communicate with customers, and 80% of such firms think that WhatsApp helps them grow their business. India is also one of the fastest growing ecosystems of startup companies globally.
Devesh Nichani, co-founder of Glassic, a fashion eyewear company that uses WhatsApp Business, said, “WhatsApp Business helps us develop stronger relationships with our customers. We're able to respond faster to customers with features like away messages and quick replies, and offer a better overall experience.”
Interestingly, this will be the first time WhatsApp has initiated a plan to generate revenues. Last year, the company had said that it will not charge customers for using their app and will also keep it advertisement-free. However, the company has not disclosed any plans of charging the SMBs for their profiles.
The company is also reportedly looking to launch its UPI-integrated payments facility next month, The Economic Times had reported. The payments feature is said to be in beta phase and is being evaluated for security and data privacy before it is released. State Bank of India, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank are expected to be banking partners. The app has at least 200 million daily active users in the country.