Chat-based e-commerce key priority for WhatsApp: Meta India head

Sandhya Devanathan, quoting a report, said that about 650 million Indian digital users were on social media and messaging platforms, of which 450 million were not adept at online shopping.
Sandhya Devanathan, quoting a report, said that about 650 million Indian digital users were on social media and messaging platforms, of which 450 million were not adept at online shopping.


  • Sandhya Devanathan, head and vice president of Meta India, explains how small and large enterprises increasing investments on conversational platforms to grow businesses.

Conversational commerce, or chat-based e-commerce, will be the key priority area for WhatsApp in India in the medium term, said Sandhya Devanathan, head and vice president, Meta India, as businesses take to the platform to engage more users and convert them to online shoppers.

Conversational commerce is essentially chat-based assisted shopping where online shoppers use chat platforms such as WhatsApp or Instagram to interact with and purchase goods or services. For instance, one can order a soundbar from JioMart Shop on WhatsApp, by going through the catalog of products available via a link within the chat app, complete the purchase on the JioMart webpage using any method, including opting for cash on delivery, and then track the delivery of the soundbar from within the chat.

Devanathan said that about 650 million Indian digital users were on social media and messaging platforms, of which 450 million were not adept at online shopping, sharing findings from a report Meta India conducted along with Bain & Company. They surveyed 7,800 users, including 25 senior executives from large and mid-market enterprises across retail, consumer products, banking, finance, insurance, auto and travel and 150 businesses from India.

The target users

This delta of users gives enterprises the opportunity to use conversational platforms and GenAI powered tools to pull in these users, more so the 350 million subset that have done a UPI transaction which would be low hanging fruit for conversions. These set of users are well versed with online payments and may, therefore, be willing to shop on a chat platform with as much ease.

Meta also believes that more users may be willing to take up chat-based shopping as most users of those surveyed were unwilling to download apps, faced issues like limited phone storage and difficulty navigating apps, with 40% even abandoning a purchase if pushed to install apps. That’s why business-specific apps may not be able to grow beyond the delta of top 50 million to 100 million customers.

Also read: Jio Platforms' Haptik claims 300% yoy growth, bullish on WhatsApp e-commerce

Devanathan added that 70% of the small and large enterprises covered by the report, were already increasing investments into these solutions, 60% of surveyed large enterprises were planning to increase spending — primarily on seamless in-chat payment functionality and vernacular language support — on conversational platforms over the next three to four years and about 80% of the enterprises are planning to invest in generative AI within the next one to two years. 

For instance, the enterprises want to invest in delivering end-to-end journeys through generative AI-powered conversational platforms. Seamless in-chat payment functionality, vernacular language support, voice-enabled in-chat ordering and interactive menus are the key areas where they will invest in.

Some of the early adopters of GenAI are Zomato, Flipkart, Myntra and Plum that have created their own chat bots that help users as personalized food assistants, shopping chat bot, apparel discovery bot and insurance query resolution bots, respectively.

Business messaging

“As business messaging becomes much more popular, we're investing in ways by which businesses can build on the platform, can reach their audience and can build experiences do customer service. There's a lot of effort from outside because we see this both as an organic behaviour that's happening on our platform, which is people reaching out to businesses, but we also see it as a key growth driver," she told Mint while showcasing the findings of the report.

For small businesses, conversation or chat-based communication could well bring down the costs that would have otherwise be spent on discoverability, cataloging, order management, payments, and customer engagement. This, however, is not a replacement for apps that have been created to bring and retain users.

“Its a complementary platform that draws in users for the quicker services, like checking your credit card statement if it's a bank, on WhatsApp, while the full suite of services can be accessed on the app," she noted. 

GenAI has also been a success for the company across its platforms – Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram – with almost 50% of all content on Instagram being recommended by AI.

WhatsApp is reported to have 400 million users in India, while its global count is around 2 billion as per Statista, making the country its largest market globally. While many of these users may be active chat users, even sending voice notes and videos across their network on the platform, they are yet to take to buying products the same way.

Data from the report suggests that 90% of surveyed ‘non-savvy digital users’ prefer to interact with small or medium businesses through conversational platforms for day-to-day needs and 70% said that they would prefer to connect with local grocery stores to send a list of items and place an order. 

About 65% of the users prefer to connect with local restaurants to receive offers and place an order, and 80% of the users would prefer to raise service tickets, manage warranty, or request a technician visit or spare part replacement using a conversational platform.

“Between the 200 million that are transacting and the 650 million, there's also 350 million that at least have done a UPI transaction. So the short to medium term opportunity in many ways that additional 150 million users that are not extensively using digital channels for commerce, are likely to start adopting these use cases fairly quickly," said Navneet Chahal, Partner, Bain & Company.

More opportunities

Meta has doubled down on creating more opportunities for businesses on its platform. Last year, it announced Flows, WhatsApp APIs and opened up WhatsApp Payments to accept UPI and other forms of payments, along with features called Click to WhatsApp which enables businesses to build an audience by targetting them through Facebook or Instagram.

“Click to messaging is now a $10 billion business for us (Meta) globally, which is significant. We see almost 1 billion messages being exchanged between businesses and users every week on our platform. In India, we see 60% of people converse with a business every week," she added.

Devanathan said that the company has seen significant success in payments as well, where use cases such as transit – ticketing for metro rides and off late bus rideshave taken off in a big way. 

“One big focus for me is to actually light up transit," Devanathan said, adding that Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) was the latest addition to the set of commuter services, which includes Delhi Metro, that have adopted WhatsApp Payments for QR ticketing using UPI.

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