How WhatsApp drives growth for the retail market

by Richard Nischk. Sub-Saharan Africa is classed as a ‘fast grower’ when it comes to the mobile market. Five operators share some 103.5 million mobile connections, and in South Africa, nine-in-10 adults own a mobile phone. This is how retailers can harness social media like WhatsApp to grow business.

by Richard Nischk. Sub-Saharan Africa is classed as a ‘fast grower’ when it comes to the mobile market. Five operators share some 103.5 million mobile connections, and in South Africa, nine-in-10 adults own a mobile phone.

Want to know what the most popular app on those phones is? WhatsApp — the free, cross-platform messaging and Voice-over-IP solution that’s taken the world by storm. This brings massive reach, but also huge credibility and accessibility. WhatsApp is a hugely popular app, a millennial ‘go-to’ that’s used by 1.8 billion humans daily.

From customer care to loyalty clubs

But the massive messaging app doesn’t just connect humans — it connects businesses big and small. Free to download and use for users, WhatsApp also has great business applications. The WhatsApp API enables retailers to connect to customers, and to automate, sort and respond to customer messages.

Retailers around the world are now using the channel to do customer care, to create clubs, to build loyalty, for research, and more.

A big breakthrough for emerging retailers was the announcement, in November 2019, of ‘WhatsApp Catalogs’ for small businesses. “Catalogs are a mobile storefront for businesses to showcase and share their goods so people can easily browse and discover something they would like to buy,” the company wrote announcing the move. “Previously businesses had to send product photos one at a time and repeatedly provide information — now customers can see their full catalogue right within WhatsApp. This makes business owners look more professional and keeps customers engaged in the chat without having to visit a website.”

Window to the world

WhatsApp enables an instant storefront for emerging retailers, driving online retail and economic growth. But it also offers options for over-burdened retailers to streamline. This solution uses artificial intelligence to enable

But it’s not only the small retailers who are leveraging the WhatsApp API. Large retailers are plugging it into a chatbot system to engage with its customers. The chatbot market size is projected to grow from USD2.6 billion in 2019 to USD9.4 billion by 2024.

For enterprises, chatbots are fast replacing many of the functions of call centres and are gaining acceptance in the marketplace.

But the real marketing power is in the WhatsApp Business API, which can be used by businesses to connect with customers in a private, secure way. Businesses need to be mindful of this power, however, and avoid approaching it as another way to “advertise”. Correctly done, business chat can increase customer engagement, grow loyalty, and increase traffic and ROI.

WhatsApp for retailers in 2020

The shift to retail use of this channel is being driven and adopted by large retailers. The big chains are effectively using WhatsApp as an alternative to email for customers that don’t want inbox ‘spam’. This drives brand affinity and provides opportunities for creating brand loyalty. A great example of this is Checkers’ new solution. As a consumer you simply add the Checkers WhatsApp number to your contacts, and then start chatting dynamically with an officially branded WhatsApp for Business account.

Sustainable marketing is also a big use case. With WhatsApp, one can rally people around a cause with real ways to contribute. For example, Apex Visibility recently partnered with Mpact Recycling to execute and build a custom WhatsApp for Business chatbot that provides a channel to support and drive recycling at schools and amongst individuals.

WhatsApp has a Multi-Function Channel to execute numerous solutions like payments, communications and notifications. Solutions geared towards loyalty, like specials and discounts, are able to issue flexible incentives on the fly.

In the South African and African context, smartphone penetration is rapidly increasing, access to internet connectivity is also on the rise, and costs of this connectivity is constantly in the spotlight and being scrutinised from the public and media. This gives rise to a ‘new dawn’ of customer experience and rich media, mobile-first engagement via premium channels, such as WhatsApp for business, accessed via “semi-smart devices” that are now starting to enter the market at R300 per device. These handsets support internet connectivity and social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook, opening up new opportunities for retailers, brands and organisations, to dynamically engage with their most important communities.

With WhatsApp, retailers that operate across countries and borders in Africa can tear down barriers of cross border connectivity with clear, engaging communication that helps scale, significantly.


Richard Nischk is co-founder and executive director of Apex, a mobile-centric solutions company that aims to partner with clients and organisations across retail, FMCG, finance, training and social impact initiatives. Apex enables these brands to build awesome mobile experiences to their communities, via multiple mobile channels; and assists organisations in seamlessly connecting with audiences using WhatsApp, USSD, SMS and mobile websites. Nischk has almost a decade of experience heading up technology companies and data-centric SaaS products, proudly engineered, and taken to market, in South Africa and Africa.

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