A few months ago, India, like many countries around the world, went into a countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19. This resulted in widespread panic buying. Stores ran out of essentials, and customers asked shop owners to update them if they’d restocked bread, eggs, certain vegetables… Store owners turned to messaging app WhatsApp to relay these updates.

It’s no coincidence that WhatsApp was a collective choice. Launched in 2009, the Facebook-owned app has 400 million daily active users in India. And it comes in two forms:

  1. The regular consumer-facing app used to communicate with one’s contacts.
  2. WhatsApp Business; an app for brands and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to offer services to customers who use the regular app. The platform can be used to sell products and share documents—say, your travel itinerary from online travel aggregator (OTA) MakeMyTrip or tickets to a movie via ticketing company BookMyShow.

WhatsApp Business, according to the company, has a large user base of 15 million in India—a sizable chunk of its 50 million users worldwide. In 2018, there were at least 90 large companies 90 large companies Livemint Using WhatsApp to run your business? You will have to pay now, but here’s a money-saving tip Read more  using it. WhatsApp Business falls neatly into its parent Facebook’s larger ambitions of making social media a place for commerce. Facebook already has Shop—an online store for customers to access. It is now being integrated with shopping on another popular Facebook offering, Instagram, the company said in a recent post recent post Facebook Introducing Facebook Shops: Helping Small Businesses Sell Online Read more . WhatsApp Business will be used for this integration—but it’s not clear if this will roll out for India.

Some of WhatsApp Business’ regular, bigger users have found their operations sidelined due to the ongoing pandemic—like OTA platforms and ticketing platforms. Neither BookMyShow nor MakeMyTrip have had an easy Covid innings due to travel being suspended and theatres being shut.

The sort of companies that already existed on WhatsApp Business and are still using it effectively would be the likes of doctor consultation platform Practo due to a surge in healthcare queries, meat delivery startups like Licious, and cooking gas distributor Bharat Gas, which offers refill bookings over WhatsApp. (The Ken wrote wrote The Ken WhatsApp it to me: Facebook’s push to use chat for commerce Read more  about WhatsApp’s growing footprint in India.)

While the pandemic has brought new passengers aboard the WhatsApp bandwagon, especially brick and mortar players, most are largely opting for regular WhatsApp, leaving Business by the wayside. 


Prasannata Patwa

Based in Mumbai, Prasannata writes about content start-ups, consumer products, and OTT platforms. When not chasing trends she likes to travel, and binge on documentaries. She previously worked at Mint and is an ACJ Bloomberg Business Journalism graduate.

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