Messaging services like Line, WeChat and even Facebook Messenger have become platforms that let business users get dedicated usernames and accounts, manage group chats, set up stores and use bots for communication, but WhatsApp has remained very basic as a social commerce platform.
WhatsApp only added a web-based interface last year. Prior to that development, businesses had to key in updates on mobile phones. This method doesn’t scale when dealing with over hundreds of customers.
WhatsApp has over 100 million users in India. As the country’s most popular app, WhatsApp also acts as a distribution channel for selling online or for acquiring customers, like how Line is used in Thailand.
Meesho, a Y Combinator startup recognizes the pain points in WhatsApp for social selling, and has launched an application to make selling easier for merchants in India. The company is called ‘Shopify for mobile’, in the most basic level. It adds commerce features to WhatsApp to allow businesses to engage with customers and sell products more effectively.
“Small businesses in India use WhatsApp groups a lot, posting details of their products daily, and then using cash or bank transfer to collect payment,” says Vidit Aatrey, Meesho Founder.
The whole model has many challenges, especially for the buyer who cannot search, and the seller who cannot categorize products. There are hundreds of photos in the chat group each day, and customers get spammed a lot. Photos also get downloaded to their device, so it takes time to clean out their phones each day.
WhatsApp owner, Facebook is testing social commerce solutions of its own, and Meesho has identified a genuine problem here.
How does Meesho work?
On Meesho, customers can browse through a carousel of products, ask questions directly to the buyer, and make an online payment through a clickable URL. Meesho will also alert merchants when potential customers are viewing their store on the platform.
“Facebook is generally used by small businesses for customer acquisition, but they do not keep their customers there because they can’t push messages to all users,” Aatrey explains. This is important given that small businesses in India that Meesho targets don’t tend to invest money in Facebook ads, boosting their posts or any money related marketing activity at all.
Meesho claims over 1,000 businesses on its platform right now, but is not monetizing its service at this point. Aatrey says there are no current plans to make money, but when the time is right, Meesho will take a commission from sales it helps facilitates.
A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on August 18. Read the full version here.