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WhatsApp’s new feature is for users who want to shop at local businesses

The instant messaging app began pivoting to e-commerce with the launch of features like WhatsApp Carts last year.

WhatsApp’s new feature will facilitate the search for local businesses within its app, according to a Reuters report. The directory, which contains details of the shops and services akin to Yellow Pages, was first tested at Sao Paulo in Brazil, Reuters added. 

The test involved thousands of businesses in categories like food, retail, and local services across certain São Paulo neighbourhoods, WhatsApp informed the news agency. Matt Idema, Facebook’s vice president of business messaging, told Reuters that India and Indonesia would be explored as candidates for the feature’s expansion.

WhatsApp has also made it clear that it will not be able to read, store, or access the location of people’s search or results whilst they are using the directory. 

This is another attempt by Facebook and its suite of products to leverage the surge in online retail during the pandemic. The feature is likely to provide a thrust to Facebook’s plans to drive an uptake in e-commerce on its platforms, and may become the primary way that people start a business on WhatsApp.  

WhatsApp’s pivot towards e-commerce

The messaging service has sought the favour of business users, with a specialised app for small firms and an API. The businesses have also been promoting their WhatsApp numbers on packaging or websites to conduct business via WhatsApp chats.

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October 2020: The company introduced a shopping button for e-commerce. The feature allows users to shop, and pay for goods and services via WhatsApp chats, BloombergQuint said. WhatsApp’s business account holders can provide catalogues from the chat screen to customers who can then purchase directly, the report added.

December 2020: A new shopping feature, called Carts, was added to the messaging app to benefit from the holiday shopping season. Carts made it easier for consumers to buy multiple items from a business, and for merchants to keep better track of order inquiries and manage requests.

April 2021: WhatsApp expanded its offerings for business users with two new features such as support for WhatsApp Catalogs on desktops, and the ability to hide items that are out of stock. Catalogs, introduced in 2019, lets businesses create a storefront and menus for the products that they sell but it was only available on mobiles until April this year. 

June, 2021: Facebook expanded Shops to WhatsApp for business in select countries which can now feature their shop on the messaging platform.

WhatsApp does not have ads on its platform as opposed to Facebook’s other services. But Idema informed Reuters that it is possible the platform could explore in-app ads in the future.

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