From Sarees To Ice Cream: How WhatsApp Business Is Bringing India’s SMEs To The Digital Fold

From Sarees To Ice Cream: How WhatsApp Business Is Bringing India’s SMEs To The Digital Fold


WhatsApp says 77% of Indian SMEs have said the online messaging platform has helped them connect with new customers

India is WhatsApp’s largest user base with over 400 Mn active users

Globally, over 5 Mn businesses are using Whatsapp Business app every month

Coupled with the growth in the number of smartphone users and increased internet penetration, many small and medium enterprises have started taking the digital route to boost their sales and improve the way they serve customers in an online world. While many tech companies and startups have supported digitisation of the MSME sector, the entry of WhatsApp Business is notable given that India accounts for 400 Mn users out of its total installed base of over 1.5 Bn users. India is by far the most active geography for WhatsApp and its new efforts are focussed on the peculiar problems in the Indian small and medium enterprise (SME) ecosystem.  

Speaking at a recent event in Delhi, WhatsApp Global Head Will Cathcart said, “Technology can help address some of India’s challenges and enables economic opportunities for small and micro enterprises. But it’s the people who bring it to life.”

According to a WhatsApp survey, 77% of Indian SMEs on WhatsApp have said that the online messaging platform has helped them to connect with their customers from across the country. Further, 62% of the WhatsApp Business users agreed that the platform has helped them to increase sales and has become an essential part of their business. 

Globally, over 5 Mn businesses are using WhatsApp Business app every month, according to the company, and at the moment, there is no subscription fee to get a WhatsApp Business account. 

This has attracted several small and medium businesses (SMBs) to the WhatsApp Business platform. The company says it has touched categories such as ice creams and handicrafts with this SMB and SME-focussed approach. For example. Artinci Artisanal Foods sells its ice creams over WhatsApp Business and the same is the case with wholesale saree seller SareeVenue, handloom store Himalayan Kraft, Indian comics company TBS Planet and menstrual cup manufacturer Dea Corp.

What sets WhatsApp Business apart from other customer service and management platforms are its ease-of-use which is combined with merchant-focussed features. These include a business profile tag with fields such as name, address, contact details and description,  automated messages and greetings; message labels similar to Gmail; and quick replies or templated messages saved by the business owner beforehand. 

Selling Sarees On WhatsApp Business

(In Picture: Aamir Ansari, Founder of SareeVenue; Image courtesy: WhatsApp)

Speaking to Inc42, Aamir Ansari of SareeVenue said WhatsApp Business is easy to use and saves time for the saree wholesaler. He gave us the example of WhatsApp Business’ quick reply feature, which is a list of templatised messages, and all the user needs to do is input a slash in the WhatsApp’s message box.

(Screenshot shared by SareeVenue)

SareeVenue is a legacy wholesale brand for sarees, and while the company does have an online website, it claimed to get most of their orders through WhatsApp where the users find it easier to browse and place an order. “It also helps us to regularly update our customer base on the new batch of items,” said Ansari.

He claimed WhatsApp Business lets him stay connected to over 2000 customers and also said SareeVenue gets around 120-150 monthly orders exclusively from WhatsApp.

Selling Comic Books Over Chat

(In Picture: Rajeev Tamhankar, cofounder of TBS Planet; Image courtesy: WhatsApp)

Comic book publisher TBS Planet also claimed to get more customers through WhatsApp than through any other medium. The company says it does not have any presence in the offline retail space as of now, and cofounder Rajeev Tamhankar said that offline sales are proving to be more costly for a publishing house, than ebooks or home-delivery model of comic books. 

“Even if WhatsApp did start charging a subscription, we would still choose WhatsApp over print or other channels because I feel it will still be cheaper than what offline bookstores charge,”  Tamhankar added. 

TBS cofounder Mohit Tamhankar said the company currently serves about 10K orders per year, of which WhatsApp makes about 40%, while 60% comes from its online website. 

Making A Social Impact Through Messaging

(In Picture: Smitha Amol Mane, cofounder of DEA Corp; Image courtesy: WhatsApp)

Another example of how WhatsApp Business has helped small businesses comes from the story of DEA Corp. The new entrant in the women’s hygiene space has only one product at hand – eco-friendly menstrual cups, which is said to last for around 10 years. The company does not have a website and neither does it sell the cups at retail outlets. In fact, this is perhaps one of the few companies in the world that has based its distribution and commerce model exclusively on WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp groups. 

DEA Corp cofounder Amol Mane said the company has till now connected with around 500-600 housewives from Vapi in Gujarat, and Diu-Daman and Dadra Nagar Haveli regions. It has also partnered with NGOs working in the menstrual and women hygiene space to help with product distribution. 

WhatsApp Business Sharpens India Focus

The spectrum of WhatsApp Business use-cases also includes team management, where companies such as Javis have used the WhatsApp Business API to build an AI-powered sales targeting platform. 

Stressing on the importance of Indian market for WhatsApp, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant had earlier said that out of 1.5 Bn global users of WhatsApp, Indians make for about 400 Mn and in the next four years there will be over a billion WhatsApp users from India. 

Cathcart has earlier said, “Small businesses are the backbone of a strong economy and I am proud of the role WhatsApp can play in helping to build the next generation of India’s entrepreneurs.”

Last month, WhatsApp has also announced a partnership with NITI Aayog to promote women entrepreneurship ecosystem in India. Under this partnership, WhatsApp has committed to provide $100K winning amount for Women Transforming India Awards 2019, among other initiatives.

With the company’s huge user base in India, WhatsApp’s exclusive attention towards expanding its business in the country is a given. A key cog in this plan is WhatsApp Payments, which is stuck in limbo, despite trials for it starting in India. 

WhatsApp Payments is now scheduled for a launch later this year, and will supplement the WhatsApp Business features to help customers and businesses complete the entire transaction through the app. While WhatsApp Business has given Indian SMEs a taste of the digital commerce ecosystem, the final piece of the puzzle would be the payments aspect, which would truly help digitise the Indian SME and SMB ecosystem. 

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