While this makes WhatsApp a great alternative for online retail, it could also be a downside.
A personalised experience means companies have to entice customers to reach out to them since sharing promotional messages on WhatsApp is not allowed. WhatsApp is also not a discovery platform like Amazon and Flipkart, where people could just browse through.
WhatsApp Business, according to the company, has a large user base of 15 million in India—a sizable chunk of its 50 million users worldwide.
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The upside, of course, is companies don’t have to pay WhatsApp (so far) to sell on the platform. This saves them the commission charged by e-commerce platforms and also the marketing dollars needed to attract customers to shop from their websites rather than stores. Amazon India charges third-party sellers commissions ranging between 10-17% for retailing apparel on its platform.
That said, Amazon’s domestic arm has almost unparalleled reach. Around 99.3% of pin codes in India placed at least one order on the platform in 2018, according to a statement released by the company.
That’s far from WhatsApp’s scale for business. It’s got many challenges in its way. First, companies need to set up a payment gateway, as mentioned above. Last-mile delivery is also a challenge. E-commerce platforms have spent millions of dollars and are still burning money to perfect this system.
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Brick-and-mortar retailers end up taking support from courier firms for delivery. This might work in the short-term, but companies end up paying much more in the long run if their order volumes don’t increase. Amazon and Flipkart even have their own in-house logistics services, which makes their deliveries more efficient.
Bata has enlisted courier companies for last-mile delivery of its products. As for Kalyan Jewellers and other luxury brands, store staffers usually deliver the product or the customer picks it up themselves.
WhatsApp’s increasing facilitation of shopping is now making it enter the emerging social commerce space. Companies including social commerce platforms like Meesho and Glowroad have a network of resellers selling products over WhatsApp. The social commerce sector, in general, is struggling as demand for non-essential products has plummeted.
“We are seeing some slow recovery. But the demand is not what it was during the pre-Covid era,” said GlowRoad’s Kunal Sinha. GlowRoad was founded in 2017, almost two years after Meesho, India’s largest platform in terms of funding and user base. Both platforms offer a similar reselling model, where resellers connect with their customer base through WhatsApp and Facebook. Meesho and GlowRoad have tie-ups with courier companies for last-mile delivery. Payments can be made online using UPI and payment gateways and they also offer cash on delivery.
While there’s a catalogue feature on WhatsApp Business for companies to display product images, for video display, one still needs to make video calls to see the final product. “With the catalogue feature introduced, product videos can be uploaded with pictures if the app starts supporting it,” said Nath of SuperLemon Apps.
These apps are targeting customers in tier-2 and -3 towns, who got internet access in 2016 when telecommunication brand Jio was launched. (WhatsApp is widely used in these parts of India as well.) Jio, interestingly, is the company WhatsApp is now collaborating with to try and grow WhatsApp Business.