WhatsApp eCommerce—A Crash Course
Updated · Mar 06, 2023
While WhatsApp has traditionally been used for personal communication, its widespread adoption and easy-to-use interface make it an ideal platform for businesses looking to connect with their target market.
With that in mind, the service has added numerous WhatsApp for sales features over the past few years.
However, there is often confusion about them, and you’ll see why soon.
In this article, we’ll try and clear that up for you, with a crash course on the platform’s uses for ecommerce.
What Is WhatsApp eCommerce?
To put it plainly, it’s a few things. The platform offers an app called “WhatsApp Business” as well as an API of the exact same name.
It offers WhatsApp Payments, where the platform becomes a payment gateway… but only in two countries. However, it has partnered with Novi to offer payments exclusively in the United States.
It can be used as live chat software, but also as a shopping cart.
You don’t need a Facebook account to use it… except sometimes you do…
All sound a bit confusing? Well, that’s because it is.
The company has taken a bit of a scattered approach to rolling out WhatsApp business features, both in how they’re all connected, where they’re offered, and how they label them.
Let’s start with the basics.
The WhatsApp Business App
WhatsApp Business is a free messaging app designed for small businesses.
It’s a variant of WhatsApp, meaning you’ll be able to connect with over two billion other users in the world.
To get started, you'll need to download the WhatsApp Business app off of the PlayStore or AppStore.
Once you have it, you’ll need to create a business profile with your company name, description, and contact information.
If you’re using the same number you use for your regular account, all of your chats and media will be automatically transferred to this commerical WhatsApp app, and the old app will lock.
You can always switch back to the basic version by reverifying your number. The Business app will then lock.
The interface of the Business app is nearly identical, except for the “business” label. In the top right, you can access the business tool set.
Here you can access your business profile, catalogue, messaging tools, and advertising settings.
The in-app business profile refers to the information your customers will see when interacting with you on your WhatsApp store.
Here you can set your logo, additional contact information, business hours, links, address, and a description of your business.
Do not confuse it with your WhatsApp Business Profile, which is something you need to create on Facebook if you want to use the API. We’ll discuss that later.
The catalog manager lets you add products that your customers can browse through within WhatsApp.
You can either add individual items, or import a catalog from your Facebook store.
Customers can add items to their WhatsApp shopping cart.
When they are done, they can then confirm their order, and a list of the products they want will be sent to you.
WhatsApp Business' auto message system is a great way to automate your customer service.
With it, you can automatically greet new contacts, and give automated replies when you're offline.
It also allows you to create “quick replies” shortcuts.
For example, typing /thanks could send the customer a message like “Thank you for shopping with us! Your order will be process ASAP. If there’s anything more you need, don’t hesitate to reach out.”
You can create your own stock messages, for quick WhatsApp sales chats, and link them to a command of your choice.
The tools also let you label chats.
This lets you keep track of which customers you’re talking to, and how far along you are in the sales process. For example, some labels are “Ordered”, “Dispatched”, “Complaint” etc.
That said, it still requires a lot of input from you to operate it.
Chats aren’t fully automated, they’re just there to speed things up.
You can also create adverts. These WhatsApp ads can be set to appear in Facebook Marketplace, the Facebook feed, Instagram feed, and the Instagram search section.
These adverts will automatically redirect those who click straight to your WhatsApp Business chat.
In order to do this, you must link to your Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Link Facebook and Instagram
To link your WhatsApp Business app to Facebook and Instagram, you’ll need to go to your Facebook Business settings > Accounts > WhatsApp Accounts > Add WhatsApp Account.
If you don’t have Facebook, or simply don’t what to connect it, another way to get people directly into your WhatsApp shop chat is through “Short Links.”
Short links are small URLs that will redirect anyone who clicks straight to your WhatsApp Business chat.
These can be used in marketing emails, landing pages you’ve created, or anywhere else you can think of.
The WhatsApp Business app is geared towards brick-and-mortar stores that want to make ordering and interaction easier for their customers and themselves.
It’s not a completely automated system and is best suited for small-scale operations in a particular geographic location that want to use WhatsApp for sales.
In India and Brazil, WhatsApp has integrated with local payment providers to allow users to send money to each other. It works similarly to other big payment gateways such as PayPal or Stripe.
This feature is not yet available in the United States, but it is possible to make payment transfers using a Novi integration.
Novi is a new financial services company that allows users to send and receive money using a chat interface.
If you’re not in the US, Brazil, or India, you’ll have to get paid through other means, such as redirecting a user to a third party checkout, or even by accepting cash on delivery, seeing as you’re most likely nearby.
WhatsApp Business API
The API is a WhatsApp ecommerce solution for medium and big businesses to integrate WhatsApp messaging with their existing tech stack.
Unlike with the WhatsApp Business App, in order to use the WhatsApp Business API, you need a Facebook account, and to register for a WhatsApp Business Profile.
Access to the API is currently available through a sign-up form, pending approval. While the Business App is free, the API carries a cost. The first 1000 conversations a month are free, but each additional one costs a couple of cents, depending on your region.
The API offers the same features as the WhatsApp shop app but on a much larger scale.
It also allows you to use WhatsApp as a livechat widget on your website, and use WhatsApp itself to track tasks and communicate with your team.
If you’re approved, you can opt for Cloud API, hosted by Meta, or go for an on-premises self-hosted API.
The confusion between the “app” and the “API” stems from the fact that they’re both called the same thing. Perhaps it’d be a good idea for the app to be called “WhatsApp Small Business”.
WhatsApp Payments being a separate and sparsely available tool, but frequently mentioned in discussions of WhatsApp ecommerce, creates further confusion.
It seems that Meta is still experimenting with WhatsApp, while also fiddling with Facebook and Instagram ecommerce, and so in time we can expect things to smoothen out a bit.
Until then, we hope this crash course has helped you figure out how you could use WhatsApp for your Business, big or small.
Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.