NEXT: How WhatsApp works for retail in 2020

by Ryan Egnos. In times of crisis, customers want rapid responses. And they want this faster and more helpful service on the technology tools that they enjoy using best. So, how do retailers and brands create that customer intimacy?

by Ryan Egnos. In times of crisis, customers want rapid responses. And they want this faster and more helpful service on the technology tools that they enjoy using best. So, how do retailers and brands create that customer intimacy?

Research from Forrester shows that 47% of customers expect to find quick answers to their questions online. This, while 77% of US consumers say “valuing my time” is the most important part of good online customer service. Forrester studies also show that consumers are more comfortable than before using virtual agents, thanks to mobile technology like Siri and Alexa. Clearly, retailers need to prioritise the service layer of responding to customer queries. However, successfully implementing and executing this service for companies with a large customer base becomes an extremely challenging task.

In a world where humans want faster, better service, WhatsApp is rising as a winner for connecting retailers with people who want keener service. Today WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide and 300 million daily users. This makes WhatsApp one of the most influential and accessible digital communication channels in the world. A truly intelligent system would be able to answer questions before they’re even asked, proactively. Leveraging the WhatsApp Business API enables us to do exactly this, and much more.

Following Covid, Apex Visibility is partnering with increasing numbers of retailers and FMCG brands to bring the official WhatsApp for Business solutions to South Africa and Africa. Here are just some of the innovative applications and projects being pioneered in retail and FMCG for WhatsApp, for our business account (WABA) members in South Africa:

  • Call centres and live chats for customer support.
  • The creation of information chatbot hubs for live announcements, notifications and FAQs.
  • Virtual leaflets and fliers for more informational or promotional use.
  • Location-based solutions that help with location and convenience. This to enable customers to find their closest stores, services or products.
  • WhatsApp payments enable the ultimate in convenience as payments can be made in the instant messaging system.
  • And there’s loyalty – recreating WhatsApp as an always-on channel that services all incentive loyalty requirements for the end customer.
Customer support

More and more customers expect a company to be able to answer their query at any time of day, so retailers are expected to have various channels open to provide feedback, including chatbots and live chat. With WhatsApp for Business, this can be combined, providing one interface — and faster results — for customers.

Automated chatbot

We all know the frustrations of being put on hold or being bounced between multiple call centre agents. By implementing a WhatsApp Business Account (WABA), a brand can seamlessly set up customised and automated chatbots to handle all customer queries and questions. Retailers and brands can create a menu of options that speedily take the customer through an intuitive, interactive process, whether it’s to answer queries or execute personalised feedback loops at scale.

Live chat

For customers who require further conversation or a greater level of interaction than an automated chatbot to resolve an issue, outstanding query or to complete the conversation; the live chat functionality allows for human interaction to take over without any delay. Designated employees who have been trained on a live chat platform are able to respond in real time, via WhatsApp whilst the consumer is not driven to another channel of engagement.

Information chatbot hub – outbound

Data analytics sits at the heart of this functionality, as spam needs to be avoided, and one only wants to engage with customers when they want us to, with information they are interested in.

Virtual leaflets and fliers

The distribution of promotional material has always been of key importance to retailers and FMCG companies, as price promotions and bundled goods aid in driving greater sale volumes. Printing and distributing leaflets is expensive and wasteful; as marketers would use a ‘spray-and-pray’ approach, where the vast majority of people would discard leaflets not relevant to them. WhatsApp now gives retailers and FMCG companies a platform to deliver these leaflets and fliers digitally and at scale, ensuring they reach targeted consumers at the right time. Further to this, now retailers and FMCG companies have the ability to clearly track and measure how many of the leaflets were downloaded for reading; whilst reducing the costs of print through the scalable process. Also, physical flyers require distribution and can present a Covid risk – virtual options are digital, transformed, personalised and limit risk smartly.

Location-based solutions

Revolutionary technology makes the lives of consumers easier in whatever application they use. The same rings true for location-based services. At any point, driving foot traffic to store is crucial but one could not emphasise this more in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Location based services have given retailers an additional method of driving foot traffic into store by making the location of their closest store available at the drop of a hat. The process is simple and intuitive, all the customer has to do is drop their pin on the WhatsApp For Business Account which will let the retailer respond with the details of the closest store such as opening times, contact details and much more.


In a world where online fraud is a major concern, two key elements need to be present for people to enter their credit card details: confirmation they are speaking to the correct brand; and, trust in the platform they are using. WhatsApp For Business has tackled both of these elements for consumers so they can clearly see which brand they are engaging with. This means brands are at an advantage, being able to speed up the purchasing process by integrating various payment gateways into their user journey. Through the integration, receipts and collection or delivery instructions can be passed onto the consumer, giving peace of mind that they have not been scammed and will receive their goods.


Loyalty programs allow retailers and FMCG companies to drive repeat purchase by capturing purchasing data, sending customised deals based on the purchasing data and rewarding consumers for those purchasing decisions. Loyalty programs are an always-on process that requires consistent and high-quality touchpoints.

As we are learning in this article, WhatsApp Business Accounts is indeed a high-quality touchpoint. In the context of loyalty programmes, a company can make all information available in the form of points, rewards, deals and much more. The retailer can create custom deals for each loyalty member and then make these deals available to the consumer as and when they want to view the deal. Often a frustration of many loyalty programs is the consumer feeling unable to cash in on the accumulated points. WhatsApp Business Account can have the full loyalty program integrated into the user journey, which would put the power in the hands of a consumer to navigate all the way to the point of points redemption.

Finally, WhatsApp amasses over one million new sign-ups per day. Why? Because it is incredibly useful. The average user checks or uses the social messaging app more than 23 times per day. It makes sense to speak to your customers where they are, and to add value to their lives with the tools they best appreciate using. It is its usefulness that will drive marketing and retail forward, which is why WhatsApp is the most progressive tool for retail today.


*NEXT is a ‘How To’ series on Retailing Africa, looking at what is next for the retail sector and brands; and how to survive and thrive, post-pandemic, post-new normal, in our changed world. Technology leader, Apex Visibility, analyse how WhatsApp for Business can be used by retailers and brands in the first of a series of exclusive articles.


Ryan Egnos is co-founder and executive director of Apex Visibility, 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 for their communities, via multiple mobile channels; and assists organisations in seamlessly connecting with audiences using WhatsApp, USSD, SMS and mobile websites. Egnos has a decade of experience in both finance and technology sectors with a focus on data- centric SaaS companies.


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