This is the latest in Localogy’s Skate To Where the Puck is Going series. Running semi-weekly, it examines the moves and motivations of tech giants as leading indicators for where markets are moving. Check out the entire series here, and its origin here.
Among the growing set of platforms available for SMB marketing, WhatsApp is a sleeping giant that’s rarely discussed — at least in the U.S. market. Its merchant-facing WhatsApp Business app is used by SMBs to manage and execute various flavors of “conversational commerce.”
The latest growth indicator comes from new figures from Facebook/WhatsApp last week that it has reached 50 million unique monthly users. That number refers to active merchants on WhatsApp, where India is the most popular market (15 million) followed by Brazil (5 million).
These levels have inflected recently as local merchants — and the tech providers that serve them — are pivoting to eCommerce en masse. To lean into that shift, WhatsApp is rolling out new merchant-facing tools to engage remote customers and facilitate virtual transactions.
First, it’s rolling out QR codes that let customers connect with businesses on WhatsApp. This was previously available to users that want to swap contact/profile info using a scannable code rather than typing in a phone number. In that way, it’s kind of like Snapchat’s Snap Codes.
Now that capability is available for merchants to use in physical or digital media. Though it’s less relevant when physical locations are shut down, this could eventually resonate with SMBs that have physical storefronts with opportunities to put QR codes on menus, receipts or any physical signage
WhatsApp also rolled out stickers (see above) that let businesses communicate things like “we’re open,” and other campaign messaging that can be summed up in an easy sticker. These can be used within WhatsApp and included in outreach to consumers who have already connected to an SMB.
Another update builds on WhatsApp’s existing Catalogs format. These are lists of items that are available for purchase from a given merchant within WhatsApp. Previously available and findable within WhatsApp, merchants can now promote and link to their catalogs from outside of WhatsApp.
From an SMBs’ perspective, this lets them generate short links within the WhatsApp Business app, which can then be shared elsewhere. The idea is to utilize other channels like Facebook, Instagram, or the physical signage mentioned above, to draw consumers to one’s WhatsApp wares.
Add it all up, and Facebook/WhatsApp are making incremental moves to cater to SMBs (parallel to Facebook’s broader moves). Seeing 50 million SMB users likely gives it more drive to do so, not to mention the overall acceleration of all-things eCommerce in this retail-constrained environment.
The other angle is that WhatsApp is famously ad-free, deviating from Facebook’s (and Instagram’s) revenue model. Our theory has always been that some form of affiliate commerce will be WhatsApp’s monetization path. It’s clear that SMB commerce could be a long-tail corollary to that master plan.