Facebook adds shopping feature to WhatsApp Business, will start charging for services

WhatsApp, Facebook's messaging app, will be increasing its investment in three features for its WhatsApp Business app - a shopping option, charging of some offerings and Facebook hosting services. They will gradually be rolled out in the months to come. 

WhatsApp said in a blog post that the shopping feature aims to expand on ways for people to find available products and make purchases right from a chat. It also wants to make it easier for businesses to integrate these features into their existing commerce and customer solutions, adding that this will help many small businesses who have been most impacted in this time.

WhatsApp will also be charging businesses for some of the services it offers, which will help WhatsApp continue building a business of its own while providing and expanding free end-to-end encrypted text, video and voice calling for more than two billion people. "We know that most people will continue to use WhatsApp simply to communicate with friends and family, which is why we will keep developing great new features and protect people’s private conversations," WhatsApp added.

Additionally, WhatsApp will also be launching Facebook hosting services, providing a new option for businesses to manage their WhatsApp messages via hosting services that Facebook plans to offer. According to the messaging platform, this will make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to get started, sell products, keep their inventory up to date, and quickly respond to messages they receive, wherever their employees are. Over the coming months, WhatsApp is also planning to expand its partnerships with business solution providers it has worked with over the last two years. 

The new features come as WhatsApp's research showed people prefer to message a business to get help and they are more likely to make a purchase when they can do so. According to WhatsApp, more than 175 million people every day message a WhatsApp Business account. "The global pandemic has made clear that businesses need fast and efficient ways to service their customers and make sales. WhatsApp has become a simple and convenient resource in this time," the messaging app added. 

Facebook's investment into WhatsApp is part of its Facebook Shops strategy announced in May. Facebook Shops was launched to empower small business owners and global brands to create a single online store for consumers to access on both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook Shops allows consumers to message a business through WhatsApp, Messenger of Instagram Direct to ask questions, receive support, and track deliveries, among others. Facebook said then that its consumers will also be able to view a business’ shop and make purchases right within a chat in WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct.

Separately this week, Facebook also ramped up its shopping feature on Instagram by allowing businesses to create Instagram ads with product tags from scratch in Ads Manager. This new feature offers businesses the option to use more commercial creative and copy compared to traditional organic posts. The available formats for ads with product tags include photos, videos and carousels. Additionally, new audience tools will be added to help brands reach new and existing customers who are interested in shopping across Facebook and Instagram.

The social giant's move with WhatsApp also comes shortly after its competitor Google, was reportedly testing a feature on YouTube that allows users to purchase products they see on videos. The intention of this new feature is likely to marry components of livestreaming and social commerce, where the videos on YouTube will now end up being catalogs for consumers. According to a Bloomberg report, YouTube is already asking creators to tag products used in their video and this data is then sent to Google. A spokesperson from YouTube also told Bloomberg, the feature is still in an experimental stage.

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