WhatsApp is currently testing a ‘modern-day Yellow pages’ type feature through which its users will be able to discover contacts of local businesses within the app.
The feature, which aims to give users a vast in-app business directory at their fingertips, will today kick off testing in Sao Paulo, Brazil after being announced by WhatsApp's Will Cathcart through a series of tweets.
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Reuters said that testing will include thousands of businesses in categories like food, retail, and local services across certain São Paulo neighborhoods. It's the latest move by Facebook-owned WhatsApp to bolster e-commerce through its services.
Matt Idema, Facebook’s vice president of business messaging, said that "India and Indonesia were good next candidates to expand the feature," namely because Yellow Pages once formed an important part of everyday life before being supplanted by internet-based directories. Idema believes the new in-app directory “could be the primary way that people start a commerce process from within WhatsApp,” which would help democratize the way people build custom without the need to own more than a WhatsApp-enabled smartphone.
Firms at your fingertips
The elephant in the room here is how advertisement could work within the service without encroaching on fair trade. Fortunately, WhatsApp, unlike Facebook and Instagram, doesn’t run ads in its app. However, Idema did not rule out the possibility that WhatsApp could one day introduce in-app ads. It's not certain if this would alter the level of the playing field, possibly presenting the risk of bigger firms using ads to force out the likes of smaller firms.
Whatsapp told Reuters that about one million advertisers currently use Facebook and Instagram's 'click to WhatsApp' ads to send users to the messaging app directly. There's clearly an untapped reservoir of e-commerce potential here for WhatsApp, and it's clear to see why a burgeoning e-commerce directory could grow organically from inside of the app.
WhatsApp is always on the hunt for the next big sell, rolling out successive innovative updates, as well as recently announcing an upcoming feature that lets users choose video upload quality when they send media content in-app. It will be interesting to see how the pilot goes in São Paulo and whether it could be extended to other locations in the future.