Whatsapp pings small biz for its next phase of India growth

Whatsapp, through its ‘small business app’, aims to provide end-to-end solutions for MSMEs, whether customer and vendor interface, or for internal systems like human resource, leave management etc.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 01:25 IST

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Meta-owned messaging service Whatsapp is looking to build on its ubiquity in India and is now targeting the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) for its next stage of growth.

Unlike larger corporations, India’s smaller businesses may not have the resources to build their own apps, websites or internal management systems. Whatsapp, through its ‘small business app’, aims to provide end-to-end solutions for MSMEs, whether customer and vendor interface, or for internal systems like human resource, leave management etc.

“India is one of our largest markets in terms of users. And India has the largest number of MSMEs in any country. That is what we are trying to build upon,” said Ravi Garg, director of Business Messaging at Meta. Garg was speaking with DH at Meta’s India head office in Gurugram.

“Larger companies can build their own platforms for internal processes like expense management, leave management etc. Smaller companies may not be able to do that. So now many of our partners have built employee bots for Whatsapp, wherein the employees can use the app to apply for leaves, claim reimbursements, etc.

While Meta does not share country-wise data, around 200 million businesses globally use the company’s small business app. Garg says a large portion of such users are in India, and the company expects a robust growth for Whatsapp usage among MSMEs in the country, in the coming years.

For large enterprises, the company provides Whatsapp business platform, and Garg is optimistic on that front as well. While a messaging platform like Whatsapp lends itself more naturally to Business to Consumer (B2C) usage, it is increasingly being used for Business to Business (B2B) work as well. Garg says some of the larger companies have developed vendor bots, which enables them to directly manage orders and input materials from vendors and partners in the value chain.

“We are enabling small businesses to do things like collect money, send invoices, and keep a tab on payments through the app. Collecting payment can be a painful process. Now imagine a PDF of a bill coming to you along with a payment link. That is a simple process and we are evolving pretty rapidly,” Garg said.

As per a report in May 2024 by Bain & Company, there is a large appetite among consumers to engage with MSMEs through messaging platforms.

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The report states that 70% of surveyed users said that they will prefer to connect with local grocery stores to send a list of items and place an order, 65% of the users will prefer to connect with local restaurants to receive offers and place an order and 80% of the users will prefer to raise service tickets, manage warranty, or request for technician visit or spare part replacement using a conversational platform.

Garg feels that the biggest advantage Whatsapp has working in its favour is the ease of usage, in a country where more than 70% of the population has access to smartphones, but many are still not tech savvy.

“There are constraints, and many consumers, especially of the older generation, many may not be able to use complicated apps, which are not very intuitive,” Garg said, adding that while Meta is not looking to compete with e-commerce companies, merging the experience of placing orders online with the ease of whatsapp usage is something the company is working on.

Given India’s complexities, where needs of the customer or a business differ based on whether they are based in Gujarat or Nagaland, Ladakh or Tamil Nadu, Garg feels artificial intelligence will play a big role, especially when it comes to languages.

“AI will be a game changer, especially for users in rural and semi-urban areas, who may not be able to text but they can use voice command to engage with businesses, and AI can be used to make sense of languages and regional dialects,” Garg said.

Published 01 July 2024, 01:25 IST

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