It is easy to see why ecommerce entrepreneurs would be interested in WhatsApp. The instant messaging solution is one of the most popular and fastest-growing communication channels in the world.
WhatsApp now reaches 900 million people around the world, and some observers have noted that it is growing faster than Facebook did. That, of course, is one of the reasons why Facebook purchased WhatsApp. It is also why so many entrepreneurs are looking to the app as the next frontier in ecommerce.
The Next Frontier of Ecommerce
Beyond its sheer numbers, WhatsApp has the possibility of reaching vast numbers of people in untapped markets. This includes the majority of smartphone users in some markets; statistics provided by Statista indicate that WhatsApp’s customers include 78% of smartphone users in South Africa, 75% of Internet users in Malaysia, and 72% of the smartphone users in Singapore. WhatsApp reaches both fast-growing developing countries like South Africa and some very affluent nations; it reaches 57% of the users in German, 61% of the Internet users in the Netherlands, and 71% of those in Hong Kong.
That means WhatsApp could provide access to a vast and incredibly diverse customer base. Therefore the question facing marketers and entrepreneurs is: How do I reach that customer base through WhatsApp?
This question becomes more important because WhatsApp plays by different rules than traditional online media. Its founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, are famously hostile to advertising. They designed WhatsApp as an ad-free communication medium, and their new boss, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has vowed to keep it that way.
Brain Acton and Jan Koum at the office.
“Our explicit strategy for the next several years is to focus on growing and connecting everyone in the world,” Zuckerberg said of his plans for WhatsApp. That means the potential markets WhatsApp will reach will grow, but ads will not be available. Instead, entrepreneurs will have to turn to other strategies, such as word of mouth.
How to Use WhatsApp for Ecommerce
- Faster, better, and cheaper communication with customers. One of the big problems facing many ecommerce companies is maintaining contact with customers. In many cases, owners or managers might not be aware of problems because customers have no way of reaching them. WhatsApp can provide a fast way for customers to provide feedback or report problems.
Around 18% of ecommerce companies in Brazil now use ecommerce for customer service, TechinBrazil reported . One reason for this is that Brazil is not as connected as other countries. WhatsApp is the only way that some customers there may have of reaching businesses.
For example, a customer can send in a message about a missed delivery or a lost package. A big advantage to WhatsApp is that it can provide communication with customers that do not have access to computers, including many less affluent individuals and those that might be away from the office or home.
More importantly, WhatsApp can provide such a communication channel at a very low price. It can take the place of expensive and sometimes cumbersome customer service solutions. Since WhatsApp is simple and widespread, customers already know how to use it.
- Improved delivery. One of the fastest-growing areas in ecommerce is same day or local delivery of products such as groceries. This provides opportunities for couriers and persons providing goods or services in the community, such as plumbers or cleaning services. In India, WhatsApp is already being used to organize pickup and delivery for food.
One growing area of ecommerce will be organizing local groups or networks for such services. WhatsApp groups could become a quick and easy means of doing that which costs entrepreneurs little to organize.
- Creation of news and entertainment content for WhatsApp. In 2013 WhatsApp created what it calls broadcasting. This allows a person to reach 100% of the members of a group. Since advertising cannot be sent, entrepreneurs will have to send out something else, such as content. Some news organizations such as the BBC and British newspapers are using this feature to send content to new markets such as Indian customers, Practical Ecommerce reported.
Unfortunately, advertising is not available, but such content could be sent out as free samples to attract customers. A person could send out a piece of a game, a brief clip from a video, or a shortened version of an article to familiarize new customers with the product. It could have an invitation to subscribe to the product or service. Such freemium marketing has been very popular for some products, like the popular Angry Birds video games.
- Word of mouth marketing. Almost all entrepreneurs know that world of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing of all, but it is also the hardest to harness. For successful word of mouth, you need to get real people talking about your products, which can be tough.
Creation of a WhatsApp group through Broadcast Lists can change that. One way to use Broadcast Lists would be to send out a free sample or an offer such as a coupon or a description of a special that your business is offering. A great way to engage customers is to set up a WhatsApp Broadcast List that only features news about sales or discounts that your business is offering.
Another is to invite customers to spread the word about your business on WhatsApp; for example, to ask them to write reviews of products or their experience with your services and put them online or to tell everybody they know about the specials you are offering.
These are just a few of the ways that entrepreneurs can take advantage of the power of WhatsApp. Another great way to learn new uses for WhatsApp is to study its use by businesspeople in countries like India and Brazil, where the app is widely utilized. Some of those ideas could easily be applied in countries like America, where the app is not that common.
WhatsApp is going to create tremendous new opportunities for ecommerce. Those that take advantage of it have the potential to make a lot of money and greatly expand their markets.