Is WhatsApp the future of conversational commerce?

With one billion daily active users sending a staggering 55 billion messages per day, WhatsApp is a force to be reckoned with in the messaging world. So it’s no surprise that the Facebook-owned company is now looking at ways to open up its user base to businesses.

WhatsApp is rolling out a new way for businesses to create a more personalised customer relationship. The company has just launched a pilot program, which is offering a stamp of verification for a small number of businesses on its service. Those chosen to participate have been awarded a green badge next to their contact name, and WhatsApp will let users know when they start talking to a verified business via a yellow message inside a chat.

Reports also suggest a dedicated app for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) is on the horizon, which will allow businesses to send out automatic messages to customers, similar to a chat bot. So, as the race to communicate with consumers in more personalised ways heats up, could WhatsApp become the forerunner in conversational commerce?

The growth of messaging

Messaging is big business. We now spend more time in messenger apps than we do on social media, and research from advisory group Activate suggests that by 2018 the number of instant messaging app users will be 3.6 billion. That’s 90 per cent of the world’s Internet-enabled population.

The meteoric rise of messaging is changing the way businesses talk to consumers and, in turn, how they think about purchasing goods. According to a 2016 study conducted by Nielsen for Facebook, 63 per cent of people said they message more with businesses than they did two years ago, while 67 per cent expect to message more with businesses over the next two years. In addition, 53 per cent said they are more likely to shop with a business they can contact via a chat app; an insight companies can’t ignore as they navigate future marketing strategies.

For ecommerce businesses, it has paved a whole new path to purchase and has provided a platform for quick response when it comes to customer service. Currently, Facebook and it’s Chinese competitor WeChat are the biggest players in the messaging space, allowing businesses to offer 24/7 support, suggest products, link to ecommerce sites and even buy directly.

Facebook says that people exchange over one billion messages with businesses every month on Messenger, with 33 per cent per cent making a purchase or placing an order and 39 per cent sharing photos of products.

The WhatsApp journey

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 and by early 2011 was already in the top 20 of all apps in the US app store. In 2013 WhatsApp’s user base had swelled to 200 million active users and a year later it was snapped up by Facebook for $AUD 21 billion.

Since its acquisition by the social networking giant, WhatsApp has ramped up its ability to offer ecommerce businesses new and convenient ways to interact with customers who are no longer satisfied with waiting days at a time for a response.

A number of brands have been trailing various messaging drives with WhatsApp such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Starwood Hotels, Agent Provocateur and the BBC, but it’s only now that business accounts will be verified. “WhatsApp is exploring ways for you to communicate with the businesses that matter to you,” the messaging app wrote in a blog post in August announcing the new feature.

Separately, the reported app being built for businesses to chat with customers could propel WhatsApp to the top of the conversational commerce tree. In the same way that businesses can interact with customers on Facebook Messenger, they will be able to use the app to send automated customer support messages, display business hours and send away messages when they aren’t available.

For eCommerce businesses the app represents a huge business opportunity to reach billions of potential users, customers, and shoppers, in a way we’ve never seen before. Watch this space…


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