Bengaluru-based Happy Milk has been supplying organic milk and other dairy products for the last few years. About eight months ago, the company started using WhatsApp Business to connect with its customers since a large part of its users were senior citizens who were not too happy placing orders through a separate app.

“Ever since the lockdown was imposed, the conversations with our customers have seen a massive 40 per cent rise. It has been a relief for us to be on WhatsApp Business, especially during these times because we are able to give timely updates to our customers on the delivery of milk,” Mehal Kejriwal, founder of Happy Milk, told BusinessLine .

Small, medium businesses such as Happy Milk are using WhatsApp Business to drive conversations with customers, especially during the lockdown period. In India, there are more than 15 million WhatsApp Business app users a month. More than 3 million users view a business catalogue on WhatsApp each month.

Abhijit Bose, Head of WhatsApp India, said digitisation technology played an important role for businesses amid the pandemic. “During Covid-19, we realised that both businesses and customers were starved of engagements. Businesses could use WhatsApp Business at least to route customer queries and keep the lights on, even when supply chains were under pressure,” he said.

Akshayakalpa, another dairy brand, saw a 45 per cent growth in the number of engagements via WhatsApp Business. The company leveraged WhatsApp Business app features such as labels, quick replies, catalogue, API, labelling, linking and transferring, among others.

Marketing tool

Zakir Sunasara, Lead Digital Marketing, Akshayakalpa Organic Milk, said his company mainly uses WhatsApp for marketing purposes because email marketing is largely useless. WhatsApp allows the company to keep the engagement on with customers even after the user exits Akshayakalpa’s website.

“We’ve placed a ‘Subscribe to WhatsApp’ tab on our landing page. It acts as customer support and an option for our customers to get timely updates on offers. Now, since people are at home, the conversations with our customers have increased, and opportunities for marketing engagements have also surfaced,” Sunasara said.

In a bid to increase efficiency levels, WhatsApp has been studying how different sectors are engaging with its business application. “In the future, we want to be able to offer sector-wise features because each sector will have different needs and demands. Offering sector-specific features is on top of our minds,” Bose said.

Sector-wise differentiation

One such differentiation could be in the retail sector. In April, Jio Platforms, Reliance Retail and WhatsApp entered into a commercial partnership to further accelerate Reliance Retail’s ‘New Commerce’ business. Under this agreement, the JioMart service is being integrated within WhatsApp, which allows consumers to access the nearest kirana and departmental stores from within WhatsApp, browse what is on sale and order the products from there itself — for home delivery.

Asked if the conversations on the same had been initiated by the two companies, Bose said: “We’ve only recently closed the deal so we cannot talk and comment on it right now.”

One of the features that a lot of small businesses are looking forward to is to enable their users to complete the transaction by making payments as well on WhatsApp. This is where WhatsApp Pay could be a critical piece in the entire plan. But the launch of the WhatsApp payments platform has been delayed by regulatory issues.

Payment options

Last month, WhatsApp told the Supreme Court that it was fully compliant with the RBI’s data localisation norms and had identified five data elements that would be stored locally. “We’re on track, but we wouldn't comment on that right now,” Bose said.

However, Bose added that the company wants its users to be able to use multiple payment options on the WhatsApp Business app to complete the transaction, without leaving the app. “Closing the loop is important, and we would like that to be inside the application,” he said.

Businesses using the WhatsApp platform are also looking for consumer data and advertising opportunities. “We're always going to start from our core principles and that has always been about the user first and the user’s privacy first. So whatever we end up doing will be consistent with those and just reinforce the protection of users. Privacy of users’ data is our number one priority,” Bose said.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, WhatsApp announced new features to help people start chatting with businesses on WhatsApp using QR codes and view their products or services. The aim is to help them be aware of many such small businesses on the WhatsApp Business API.