WhatsApp has added new business features intended to allow companies to chat with people as they do with friends.
The tools allow businesses to more easily set themselves up as special users on the app, which then means they can open conversations that will sit alongside more traditional WhatsApp chats.
But the company did stress that the business features will always requires users to choose to use them, amid fears that the inclusion of more companies could undermine the personal and private nature of WhatsApp.
WhatsApp – and its owner Facebook – said the move comes as more people move to messaging companies they are buying from or dealing with, and moving away from the usual ways of getting in touch with businesses.
“Many of the old ways in which people and businesses communicate are not working,” the company wrote in a blog post. “While businesses spend billions of dollars annually managing phone calls, e-mails, and SMS, people do not want to wait on hold, get passed from person to person, or wonder if their messages were received.”
Instead, WhatsApp hopes it can shift users towards talking through the app, but it noted that “there is much more we need to build” before people feel confident to message businesses to get help or make purchases.
The three major changes introduced in the new update are all intended to support that, and encourage more companies to conduct their work through WhatsApp and Facebook.
The first of them is new shopping tools that allow users to make purchases from within a chat. Stores can host a devoted page to show the products they have for sale, and customers can then buy those products in the same way as sending a message, as well as discussing any questions through the same means.
The second is the introduction of “Facebook Hosting Services”. That allows small and medium businesses to have their tools – such as products, inventory and customer service software – hosted by Facebook itself, rather than having to integrate WhatsApp’s technology with their own systems.
That will mean that Facebook might be able to gather data about what customers are buying and discussing within the app. Some of the information generated through the integration with Facebook will be used for ad targeting, WhatsApp noted.
The third is the introduction of business sales. While WhatsApp committed that there will be no charge for the features the app is best known for – such as text messages, and video and voice calling – it will start to charge businesses for its services.
The new tools will roll out “in the months to come”, WhatsApp said.
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