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Unboxing WhatsApp Business’ scale and plans in its largest market

After two-and-a-half years of existence in India, Whatsapp Business has achieved a significant milestone. The version of the messaging app that connects business owners with its customers has crossed the 100 million download mark, according to three Entrackr sources. This comes as the app has seen a larger adoption since the nationwide lockdown earlier this year due to Covid-19 as small business owners turned to digital channels to connect with their customers.  

“WhatsApp Business has been downloaded over 50 million times in the past 12 months (August 2019 to August 2020). As of now, it has crossed 105 million downloads in the second half of the last month,” said one of the people cited above on condition of anonymity. “Over 98% of these downloads were recorded on Android devices.”

This claim was also corroborated by Sensor Tower data which showed WhatsApp Business has been downloaded over 91 million times in India. Launched in January 2018, the app was also used by 43 million users monthly or monthly active users (MAU) during the past 90 days. 

Importantly, India is the largest market for WhatsApp Business with close to 40% of the overall downloads originating from the country. As of now, it has been downloaded 233 million times worldwide, according to Sensor Tower. 

WhatsApp Business has been witnessing increased adoption across small and medium businesses since the announcement of the pan-India lockdown on March 24. Its monthly active user base jumped by close to 2X to 38 million from 20 million during the pre-Covid period. We took five months of data of pre-Covid (Oct 25, 2019, to March 24, 2020) and post-Covid (March 25 till now) to compare MAU figures on Sensor Tower.

The usage of WhatsApp Business jumped significantly as small businesses were looking to connect with their customers online as more and more people have been confined to their homes. “WhatsApp Business helped us communicate with users and push inventories and offers virtually because there was very little offline interaction during the lockdown period,” said Shashank Mittal who runs seven departmental stores across the national capital region.

Entrackr spoke to at least half a dozen businesses across grocery, pharmacy, and dairy segments who have been leveraging WhatsApp Business for regular interactions with existing and potential customers. Small merchants prefer WhatsApp Business to  Facebook and Instagram due to two simple reasons: its ubiquity and ease of use.

“All types of customers, irrespective of age, income, and status use WhatsApp. Since people spend a lot of time on the app, it’s natural for small and medium-size merchants like us to engage existing customers there,” said  Amol Dalmia of a Gurugram-based drycleaning.

Amid witnessing almost 2X jump in usage and ahead of WhatsApp Pay launch likely soon, the Facebook-owned company is also ramping up its local team. According to job postings on LinkedIn, it’s hiring product marketing managers for SMB (small and medium businesses) and Commerce.

The SMB manager would be required to drive growth, retention, and commerce for WhatsApp in the sector while the product marketing manager for Commerce would be responsible for testing and launching new products in the market. 

Entrackr’s queries to WhatsApp remained unanswered until the publication of this story. We will update the story as and when they respond.

The timing of these vacancies are crucial and have come at a time when Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg emphasized getting thousands of small businesses onto the WhatsApp ecosystem for commerce. “There’s a huge opportunity to enable small businesses and individuals in India to buy and sell things through WhatsApp,” Zuckerberg had said on the company’s June quarter earnings call.

Industry watchers tracking the digital commerce space believe that WhatsApp Business will become a compelling proposition once it gets linked with its UPI-based payment app Whatsapp Pay. However, WhatsApp Pay, in its beta phase, is limited to 15 million users at the moment.

The company had been embroiled in a regulatory tussle over data localization since February 2018. However, in June, the National Payments Corporations of India or NPCI gave its green signal to WhatsApp Pay for mass roll-out. It’s now awaiting the Reserve Bank of India’s nod. The banking regulator is likely to allow WhatsApp Pay for a full-fledged launch soon.

According to sources, the company may hire more people to drive WhatsApp Business and its experiments in the ‘super app’ direction. The company is gearing up for a pilot by adopting the open specifications of Beckn. 

Beckn is the brainchild of Nandan Nilekani, Pramod Verma, and Sujith Nair that enables businesses to build consumer-facing solutions without worrying about fulfilment and customer acquisition costs.

WhatsApp may launch a WeChat-like ecosystem by adopting Beckn’s specifications. Entrackr had exclusively reported about Beckn and WhatsApp’s super app ambition (independent of Jio) earlier this month.

Over the past 12 months, WhatsApp Business has grown at a quick pace. With a  full-fledged launch of WhatsApp Pay, the app is slated to see tremendous adoption across small merchants. In the coming times, WhatsApp Business could revolutionize digital commerce among the so far neglected but important business class – SMEs.

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