WhatsApp pilots Business Directory in the field of e-commerce

WhatsApp, the popular messaging service, has just launched WhatsApp Business Directory as part of efforts to foster the development of e-commerce services on Facebook.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp at Facebook, took to Twitter to announce a pilot of the service in So Paulo, Brazil, a city he said is “home to millions of small businesses”. Cathcart said the in-app service will “help you find and connect with local businesses, like your neighborhood coffee shop, florist, clothing store and more.” In other words, it’s a bit like app-based yellow pages.

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He also said WhatsApp “will consider expanding this service to other cities and other types of businesses available on WhatsApp” based on feedback from service users over the next few months.

Matt Idema, vice president of business messaging at Facebook, told Reuters that India and Indonesia were likely candidate markets for the new feature. No doubt aware of recent criticisms of user privacy, Cathcart also claimed that WhatsApp has “built this privately: don’t log your location or the businesses you browse”.

Set to work

Essentially, the new feature makes it possible to search for businesses in its app for the first time. Idema said it could be “the main way people start a commerce process in WhatsApp”. WhatsApp, unlike Facebook and Instagram, does not serve ads in its app. Idema told Reuters that companies promote their WhatsApp numbers on packaging or websites or use Facebook ads to get users to chat on WhatsApp.

Facebook previously said it would focus on building e-commerce features to expand beyond its advertising business. At this year’s F8 Refresh developer event in June, the social media giant showed off a bunch of new updates designed to extend the usability of Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp as business channels.

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For example, he announced new updates to WhatsApp Business which he says will “make it easier for businesses to start using the WhatsApp Business API and for people to easily chat with those businesses.”

In June, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s Shops feature would be extended to WhatsApp in several countries. In recent years, WhatsApp has also launched shopping tools such as product catalogs and shopping carts.

In October last year, WhatsApp said more than 175 million people message a WhatsApp Business account every day. “Our research shows that people prefer to message a business for help and are more likely to make a purchase when they can,” the company said.

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Anne Morris, Editor, Special for Light Reading

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