Buy fish through a chat window — that is the USP of Parthaa Kundu’s venture. Delhi-based Kundu, the founder of Fishappy, home-delivery fish from selected vendors. Customers can see videos of live fish, select what they want and type in their orders — all on WhatsApp’s platform for business.
Kundu, 47, started Fishappy in 2015 and promoted his business through word of mouth, a website and pamphlets in newspapers. He signed up for WhatsApp Business in June 2019. “The business exploded, as users were already familiar with WhatsApp.
Now 97% of the business comes via the app,” says Kundu, who was in the luxury travel industry before becoming an entrepreneur. He sources fish from select vendors in Delhi and sells to 500-550 customers a month in the Delhi-NCR region now, from around 300 customers 18 months back.
Many small businesses like Kundu’s around the country are finding that the business platform of the popular chat app might be the most fitting tech platform for their scale and nature. Small businesses struggle to be discovered on larger e-commerce platforms. And their scale does not permit them to invest in digital marketing and drive traffic to their own website or Facebook page. They find Whatsapp Business to be an acceptable substitute for a website or app and love that anyone can manage the backend. There is no need for dedicated customer service staff, as you can answer queries on the go. This helps improve customer satisfaction as users get instant replies.
Abhijit Bose, head of WhatsApp India, says the app enables end-to-end communication cycle between small businesses and customers. “What started as a P2P (peer-to-peer) service has enabled users to connect the same way in P2B (peer-to business) conversations.”
About one million small businesses in India have already signed up on the platform. Globally, that number stands at 5 million.
The two major drawbacks, however, are the absence of payments and features designed to support businesses of a relatively small scale. This means once a small business scales, the owner would have to find a more appropriate platform for their size. Once the platform throws opens payments, which the company says will happen within a few months, it could see rapid adoption by more small businesses.
“We can make business owners’ lives easier and it also helps in increasing their sales,” says Bose. “I think that will end up digitising them more as they get more comfortable. Another distinguishing factor is our scale and we are able to touch tier-2 and -3 cities because various sectors use WhatsApp. For example, agriculture is a huge sector where a lot of businesses run on WhatsApp for different needs.”
Businesses can download the app for free and create a profile of their offerings. But they have to register a separate phone number for business use as the number used for WhatsApp cannot be used for the business platform. It also allows a business to register using a landline number, unlike in the mother app. Businesses can easily sort and automate messages.
The flip side is that businesses would have to use online or offline campaigns to promote their presence on the messaging app. However, despite not supporting payments at the moment, the app has the potential for businesses to convert interest into a sale. Indu Wary, the founder of saree and accessory seller Asomkriti, discovered this in 2018. Bengaluru-based Wary, 32, a former product manager with an IT company, started the venture in 2017 to sell products such as mekhela chadar (traditional sarees from Assam), kurtis, jewellery and stoles sourced directly from 55 weavers in Assam.
Though she was selling through Asomkriti’s website, she soon realised that people often add items to cart but don’t make an actual purchase. Ecommerce sites were overcrowded with large sellers. So Wary signed up on WhatsApp Business in mid-2018. “Things changed almost immediately, as people trusted the app. Our conversion from interest to sales increased to 60%.”
The startup sells 600 products a month now and does business worth Rs 5.5-6 lakh. The app has a green check mark on verified profiles, making it easier for people to know if the business is genuine or not. Ahmedabad-based Lightspeed Mobility, which makes battery-operated cycles, is another venture that has been able to close more online sales because of WhatsApp Business.