WhatsApp future vision: ‘Private commerce’ and payments

Today at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a series of announcements tied to the company’s future vision of more privacy channels for users. He also announced a significant redesign of the Facebook site and app.

WhatsApp Product Catalog. As part of a broader discussion of private messaging, Zuckerberg introduced the WhatsApp Business Catalog. This will be a way for small businesses to showcase products to users interacting with them on WhatsApp. A screenshot was leaked online not quite a year ago that pointed to such an offering.

Facebook has been building out business-friendly features in WhatsApp, including the coming introduction of ads. Launched in early 2018, WhatsApp business is primarily directed toward small business owners.

Businesses will be able to upload images and descriptions of products, though there were few details beyond the announcement itself. Conspicuously absent was any discussion of whether those products might be sold directly through the app.

Instagram expanded shoppable posts to more businesses today. There’s also Instagram in-app checkout with a limited group of brands for now. Accordingly, I would expect similar developments for WhatsApp.

Global payments platform. Zuckerberg also sees WhatsApp as a global payments platform (like Venmo or its owner PayPal). The company not long ago introduced WhatsApp Pay in India and Facebook says about a million people are currently using it.

The combination of products and payments on WhatsApp points to its future as a global “private commerce” platform. Zuckerberg called out small business use cases in particular. “It’s important for all the small businesses out there that don’t have a web presence,” he said. This describes much of the developing world, where WhatsApp is heavily penetrated.

Zuckerberg also believes that private messaging/social communication will become a “primary way” that businesses interact with customers going forward. However, it has yet to materialize on Facebook Messenger.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for roughly $19 billion in cash and stock. Citing differences with Zuckerberg, both WhatsApp co-founders have now departed the company.

Why it matters. WhatsApp claims about 1.5 billion users globally – a third of which use the app daily. Ads are coming this year. But it’s also clear that Facebook sees a significant commerce opportunity for the platform, which it may emphasize equally.

One interesting question is whether all of Facebook’s apps and platforms will share capabilities and feature parity and simply be positioned for different audiences. That seems to be where it’s going, with ads, commerce and cross-app communication coming to all of Facebook’s messaging platforms.

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