Procurement · 6 September 2017

What small firms can expect from the incoming WhatsApp business app

A WhatsApp business app could enable small business owners to improve customer experiences
A WhatsApp business app could enable small business owners to improve customer experiences

Messaging app WhatsApp has confirmed development of a dedicated chat tool to connect users with small companies, giving business owners a direct line of communication with customers.

In an official blog post published on Tuesday 5 September, the Facebook-owned messaging service confirmed rumours of a WhatsApp business app that began circulating back in March. Reuters initially reported WhatsApp was trialling a new feature to allow companies to interact with customers, as part of its strategy to monetise its service.

Later, Mashable reported that a “WhatsApp for Business” was being tested to specifically “help enterprises with ten employees or less to manage their clients better”, touting a trial pilot to take place in India.

Declining to comment on all initial reports, WhatsApp latest blog post confirmed the early rumours and elaborated on what small business owners could expect from the app.

“We’re building and testing new tools via a free WhatsApp business app for small companies,” the blog post read.

It added further detail to the operational capabilities, suggesting firms would be able to send customers other “useful” notifications such as delivery confirmations and other updates.

According to the post, the WhatsApp business app will “make it easier for people to communicate with the businesses they want to reach”.

Companies will be “verified” in a similar way to Twitter’s blue tick model, with a green badge used to show legitimate businesses. Founders will be able to display their address and other relevant information to help potential customers discover their products and services.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, WhatsApp chief operating officer, Matt Idema, outlined how to app could work in practice – giving an immediate line of communication between business owners and customers.

“[It could see] someone placing an order with a local bakery or looking at new styles from a clothing store.”

As with its regular chat service, messages between businesses and customers will be encrypted, with users able to block unwanted companies.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch: “Businesses will only be able to contact people who have provided their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp.”

The app also confirmed its intentions to charge for the app further down the line. However, it has been suggested that the app could be subsidised by larger corporations using the app, leaving it free of charge for micro companies.

Since Facebook paid $19bn for WhatsApp in 2014, it has yet to find a way to effectively monetise the service. It has resisted putting ads into the messaging app for fear of degrading its experience, but the potential in luring business owners towards its 250m daily users could prove lucrative.

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

Business development