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WhatsApp’s super app ambitions are starting to come true in India

WhatsApp’s super app ambitions are starting to come true in India

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A grocery store in your messaging app

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Three screenshots showing a JioMart integration in WhatsApp
You can now buy bananas without ever leaving WhatsApp.
Image: WhatsApp

WhatsApp users in India can now do their grocery shopping without ever leaving their messaging app. Meta announced a new integration with JioMart today, through which users can text “Hi” to a certain number and be taken to an in-app shopping experience. The shopping experience looks fairly familiar, akin to what Instacart and other delivery services have been designing for years. But here, there’s no other app. And for WhatsApp, that’s a big deal.

Meta is convinced that business messaging is a big part of how WhatsApp will make money going forward. (Well, that and ads, but the ads thing is causing WhatsApp some trouble.) “Business messaging is an area with real momentum and chat-based experiences like this will be the go-to way people and businesses communicate in the years to come,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post announcing the partnership. The JioMart integration is part back-and-forth chat, part in-app browser, but contains everything from selection to payment to delivery within WhatsApp.

Ultimately, Meta wants WhatsApp to be a WeChat-style super app

Ultimately, Meta wants WhatsApp to be a WeChat-style super app, the one app users need to run their whole lives. WeChat users can pay their rent in the app, buy concert tickets in the app, pay for food in the app, and much more. Any platform that can consume that much of people’s lives is basically guaranteed to make a fortune in the process, through payment processing fees, premium features, and — you guessed it — ads.

No other platform has come anywhere close to achieving WeChat’s level of dominance, but with more than 2 billion users, WhatsApp has a better chance than most. India is its most popular market, too, with roughly 400 million users in the country. WhatsApp is free, it doesn’t take much data, and it runs on phones at practically all prices.

JioMart, meanwhile, is an e-commerce company run by Jio Platforms. Jio itself is part of Reliance, one of the companies responsible for the inexpensive phones and services that have brought many Indian citizens online for the first time. (Just today, in fact, Reliance announced it plans to spend another $25 billion rolling out 5G to “every town” in India by the end of next year.)

Ultimately, you should expect integrations like this to show up all over WhatsApp. The company has been working on in-app shopping for the last couple of years, continues to press on user-to-user payments, and is actively developing its WhatsApp Business app. WhatsApp wants to be an encrypted place for you to talk to your loved ones, but if it can also be a place for you to talk to your airline, your grocer, your hair stylist, and your broker, it can become both a more powerful platform and an absolute gold mine. Doing that without ruining the chat experience, though? That’s going to be hard to pull off.

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