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Where Online Shopping Rises, WhatsApp Follows

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Ecommerce has grown exponentially over the last two decades, albeit at a fairly steady pace. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, paired with renewed restrictions and stay-at-home orders approaching the holidays, that steady pace of online shopping growth has gone out the window.

Retailers had no options this year other than to throw their full weight behind digital sales, and it paid off. From essential purchases like groceries and toiletries to kitchen appliances and video game consoles, online retail stock has been flying off the virtual shelves all year, and the holidays have proven that the train isn’t slowing down any time soon. Alongside this steep uptick in online sales is the rise of a familiar mobile communications platform: WhatsApp.

Despite a user base totaling approximately two billion worldwide and a massive presence in Asia and Latin America, the app has a surprisingly small foothold in the United States. For perspective, only 20% of Americans have WhatsApp on their mobile devices, compared to 93% of Brazilians actively using the app.

While that is a massive gap to close across markets, the wheels of change started churning in 2020 as U.S. businesses began searching for better customer engagement platforms to support their hastened shift to ecommerce. Top-notch customer service would be a necessity in order to retain the loyalty of faceless shoppers, and marketing departments started turning to WhatsApp to meet those needs.

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According to Infobip’s own client research in Q3 2020, their customers were reaching 63% more users per month than at the beginning of the year through WhatsApp, with retail in particular rocketing 115% in the Americas. That increase is just a precursor to the growth potential we’ll be able to observe after the dust from the holiday shopping season settles — according to Adobe Analytics, Black Friday and Cyber Monday’s online sales increased about 22% and 15% year-over-year, respectively. With this online revenue growth, it’s safe to assume major businesses will increase their marketing budgets for a greater digital presence.

Knowing the difficulties WhatsApp has had with integration in the U.S. before, why would it be adopted now?

To put it simply, WhatsApp vastly improves customer engagement possibilities by providing for all the essentials under one roof, including the ability to integrate AI support bots and promotional campaigns. Practically an omnichannel experience by itself, WhatsApp could lead to an industry-wide marketing breakthrough for retailers as they continue to navigate their growing online profiles. If you’re wondering how bots or promos could provide such a significant boost to customer engagement, the success lies in the implementation.

No one enjoys long waits when they have an urgent product issue to solve, and customer support executed through a combination of real support agents and AI chatbots streamlines the query process for both the customer and the contact center. Integrating chatbots in a brand’s WhatsApp platform allows customers with simple inquiries to consult chatbots, freeing up agents’ time to handle complex requests, which can be fast-tracked thanks to their lighter workload.

When planning a promotional campaign, a sale or even a new product announcement, brands will want to prioritize and speak directly to their target audience. It’s not enough to blast a generic ad to a massive email database anymore. Through WhatsApp, brands can take on a proactive approach to offering new products and personalized deals that speak to individual customers’ wants and needs.

Beyond planned promotional outreach, retailers can also utilize WhatsApp to upsell products based on customers’ shopping preferences, providing an outlet for even the most granular customer retention strategies.

The name of the game for 2021 is proactivity, and retailers can further improve their digital presence by proactively communicating day-to-day updates with their customers. WhatsApp  supports customers through their purchasing journey by allowing customers to coordinate their delivery drop-off, get real-time alerts on delivery timing or check on the status of their cancellation and return requests. Brands should always try to beat their customers to the punch in this area, and WhatsApp delivers by enabling proactive communications that build positive sentiment and trust among shoppers.

The circumstances facing our society and economy approaching the new year are unprecedented, but the retail industry (among others) are poised to seize new opportunities through digital transformation, including the integration of WhatsApp in their customer engagement infrastructure. Many are already taking advantage of this opportunity, as highlighted in Infobip’s client data, and given the success WhatsApp has found connecting billions of users around the world, there’s no reason to believe that the mobile platform couldn’t succeed in connecting American businesses with millions of eager customers.


Yuri Fiaschi is VP, Global Sales at Infobip, where he is responsible for leading the company’s sales organization, developing partnerships and alliances, and evaluating strategic acquisitions. Fiaschi has over 20 years of experience in mobility, technology and sales, having started his career at IBM, where he worked for nearly 10 years as Sales Manager. He is an active member of several high-profile industry groups, including the Mobile Marketing Association, the GSM Association and CTIA.

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