WhatsApp is officially launching a new business directory feature across Brazil, the UK, Indonesia, Mexico, and Colombia. Meta says users will either be able to browse by business category (like travel or banking) or else search directly to find companies that are contactable on the service. Those signed up for WhatsApp’s Business Platform across all five countries will appear in the directory, while in Brazil, the directory will also be open to small businesses.
The official launch of the feature follows a limited test that WhatsApp conducted in São Paulo, Brazil, last year. The feature is only available on Android in Brazil but is available across both Android and iOS in other countries.
“While millions of businesses in Brazil use [WhatsApp] for chat, we haven’t made it easy to discover businesses or buy from them, so people end up having to use work-arounds,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “The ultimate goal here is to make it so you can find, message and buy from a business all in the same WhatsApp chat.”
“The ultimate goal here is to make it so you can find, message and buy from a business all in the same WhatsApp chat.”
The launch of the feature comes as WhatsApp is increasingly pitching itself as a service for people to use to message businesses in addition to friends and family. As of October 2020, Meta said that over 175 million people around the world used WhatsApp to message business accounts every day. The service has also added other features focused on e-commerce, like support for in-app shopping carts.
The final part of the e-commerce puzzle is in-app payments, which have been a long time coming. Although Meta recently announced WhatsApp’s “first-ever end-to-end shopping experience” in India with retailer JioMart earlier this year, following the launch of person-to-person payments in 2020, the rollout in Brazil has been slower.
Brazil’s central bank suspended WhatsApp’s payments feature in 2020, shortly after its launch. Then, despite gaining its approval the following year for peer-to-peer payments, Reuters noted at the time that the central bank was not allowing payments to merchants. As of April this year, the Financial Times was reporting that Meta was also struggling to find payment partners for its payment-to-merchant feature.
Today’s WhatsApp press release says it is testing the merchant payments feature in Brazil “with multiple payment partners.”
WhatsApp’s business-focused features are notable for being one of the few ways the service is monetized directly via the WhatsApp Business API. It doesn’t show ads in the same way as Meta’s other major services, Instagram and Facebook. (Though businesses do not have to pay to be included in the new directory search feature.) But a Meta executive told Reuters last year that ads are likely to be a part of WhatsApp’s business model “in some form or another” in the future.