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WhatsApp launches business app in move towards profit-making

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has launched a business-oriented app, marking a move towards eventual monetisation of the service, which currently has over 1.3 billion users worldwide.

The new app is aimed at small businesses and contains a number of features not found on the standard app including:

  • Business profiles which provide customers with useful information such as a business description, email or store addresses, and website
  • Messaging tools that can respond with quick replies to frequently asked questions, greeting messages that introduce customers to the business and away messages that let them know when no one is around to answer a query
  • Messaging statistics such as the number of messages read to see which have the most impact
  • WhatsApp Web which allows sending and receiving of messages on a desktop (also available on the consumer app).

The accounts are aimed at businesses that receive a high volume of WhatsApp messages and need help keeping up, according to WhatsApp chief operating officer Matt Idema. “What we saw was a need for businesses to have more efficient tools,” he said in an interview.

Idema, who was a Facebook executive before he joined WhatsApp last year, said WhatsApp intends to charge businesses in some form in the future, but that it was too soon to discuss when that would happen or what the future business services would look like.

Facebook bought WhatsApp, a pun on the phrase “What’s up?”, in 2014 for $19bn, attracted by the size of its user base. WhatsApp used to charge a $1 annual subscription fee but dropped it in 2016, leaving the service without a source of revenue.

Options for future revenue are narrow because WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have ruled out advertising on WhatsApp, a factor that adds to the service’s popularity.

WhatsApp competes in a crowded market that also includes Facebook’s Messenger application, Tencent Holdings WeChat and numerous other messaging services.

WhatsApp said its business accounts would be available beginning on Thursday through a WhatsApp Business application in the Google Play store in Britain, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and the United States.

The company said it plans to roll out the accounts to other countries in the coming weeks, and eventually to have a version for Apple iPhones.

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