E-commerce service Snapdeal now lets you search for products via WhatsApp. (hat tip: @surajkala). However, it is not clear if this is an official project by the company or a demo made by someone for its Launchpad contest.
To use the service, you have to add +91 9278 992789 as a contact and then WhatsApp this account with any product name (ex: apple or mobile). It will return prices for the a couple of relevant items and also post a link to see more results. The service was able to address me by name since I had purchased items from the website in the past. We tried calling the number and it was switched off, indicating that the SIM was not plugged into a phone. WhatsApp does not have any APIs as of now, so it is possible that the company has created a bot using one of the unofficial hacks to get it to work.
The service itself is a bit silly, since the person can do the search on the company’s website and get the same results. The results on WhatsApp are not actionable and hardly adds any value from consumer perspective.
This is not the first time companies have used WhatsApp to interact with Indians. BBC had started a trial using WhatsApp to deliver news updates in English and Hindi last month. Kerala police meanwhile has been using the service to let people report traffic violations.
These initiatives indicate that brands are definitely interested in using WhatsApp to communicate, especially because it has over 50 million active users in India. The issue for these brands is that there is no official APIs as yet. In an interview with Medianama, WhatsApp Business Head Neeraj Arora had said that the company is happy doing anything that adds to the utility of WhatsApp, (which this service definitely is), but it has not yet figured out how to open up the service to third-parties without the risk of spam.
Other messaging clients such as WeChat allows brands and it had tied up with GetIt for a similar offering earlier this year.
These unofficial APIs can be used to receive and send messages via the service and thankfully none of these bigger companies have resorted to spamming. Messages are sent only in response to queries by people in case of WhatsApp and after enabling the service in case of BBC. However, there is a chance that these same methods will be used by spammers to send messages. The messaging company lets people block such numbers and from what we understand the messages are banned from WhatsApp after it received a few such blocks.
We hope that the company takes this increasing demand for the service into account and releases official guidelines and APIs soon. They need to make it possible for brands to pull messages from WhatsApp so as to address complaints that might have and this should help public service initiatives like the one launched by Kerala police. WhatsApp should also create guidelines for brands such as Snapdeal with detailed information on API limits and conditions for sending messages.
We have reached out to Snapdeal to find out if this is an official service.