harness WhatsApp for E-Commerce


“WhatsApp is the most used social media platform in Africa.”

What comes to your mind when you hear or read such statement? I am sure that statement raises its own set of questions. For a business person, probably one of the thoughts that come to mind is about opportunities or barriers that this presents to him or her. On the top would be the question, “How can I harness WhatsApp for E-commerce.”

Here is another statement I want you to think about also.

According to Quartz Africa, “Africa has the most expensive data in the world.”

What combination of questions are you now asking yourself?

You could be asking the following:

  • So, how many people in Africa can afford to use the internet?Or
  • What is the effect of this on E-commerce since WhatsApp is more of a messaging platform, unlike the other social media platforms?”

Very true unlike other social media platforms, WhatsApp is more of a messaging platform which does not have functionalities for advertising like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Therefore it is highly likely that we quickly conclude that the dominance of WhatsApp in Africa is a drawback to E-commerce.

What if I told you that WhatsApp’s dominance in Africa is the next best thing for E-commerce? In this article, I will show you how it is now very possible to harness WhatsApp for E-commerce in Africa.

Let’s dig right in.

WhatsApp Usage in Africa compared to other platforms

According to Hootsuite, WhatsApp had about 1.6 billion users as of April 2016, having grown from 1.5 billion as at the end of 2018. WhatsApp Business has around 3 million users worldwide so far. According to the Hootsuite, as shown by the diagram below, WhatsApp is the dominant social media platform in Africa as compared to the other platforms.

The dominance of WhatsApp in Africa and its fastest growth rate of penetration in Africa cannot be ignored if we are to think about E-commerce. Let us examine the opportunities that WhatsApp as a social media and messaging platform can present to businesses in the African continent and how these businesses can harness WhatsApp for E-commerce.

Growth in mobile internet traffic

According to research, on average people spend about 3 hours a day on their smartphones. Trends show that the use of mobile phones to transact on the internet or communicate will soon surpass usage of computers.

Mobile phones have brought convenience to the way people interact and transact. Now you can do anything on the go. You can read and respond to emails, search for stuff online, and a lot of other things.

An interesting statistic, as shown by the graph below, shows that internet traffic from mobile devices is growing over the years.

Let us now examine how people interact with WhatsApp in Africa.

WhatsApp is the cheapest messaging platform in Africa. As a result, it has revolutionized the way people interact with each other. Of the 3 hours that people spend on their phones, the greater percentage is spent on WhatsApp. That on its own should make one want to explore how to harness WhatsApp for E-commerce because you can see that WhatsApp has a key to E-commerce in Africa.

Use of WhatsApp in Buying and Selling in Africa

In countries like Zimbabwe, WhatsApp is being used a lot in buying and selling. There are WhatsApp groups that have been formed specifically for purposes of buying and selling. In fact, WhatsApp is like Zimbabwe’s internet because of the prohibitive cost of data. The people have tried to harness WhatsApp for E-commerce but not fully.

According to the 3rd quarter report for 2018 by Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), WhatsApp bundles constituted 32% of the mobile data usage in Zimbabwe. This means that WhatsApp is a major driver of mobile data usage. These statistics show that there is great potential to use WhatsApp for purposes of E-commerce if people can integrate it with other platforms.

What is just needed is an interface between WhatsApp as a messaging and notification application and E-commerce applications.

Which takes me to a new technology called WhatsApps Virtual Assistants.

What are WhatsApp Virtual Assistants?

A WhatsApp Virtual Assistant is a type of WhatsApp based chatbots. According to Techopedia, “A chatbot is an artificial intelligence (AI) program that simulates interactive human conversation by using key pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals. Chatbots are frequently used for basic customer service and marketing systems that frequent social networking hubs and instant messaging (IM) clients. They are also often included in operating systems as intelligent virtual assistants.”

An example of a WhatsApp Virtual Assistant is our own Ipapo™ which handles quite a number of functions both on the web and on WhatsApp. A few examples are

  • Registration and searching on our business directory
  • Looking for and booking accommodation at hotels
  • Searching for available cabs or taxis in an area
  • Coordination of sending of parcels
  • And many other functions
Ipapo WhatsApp Virtual Assistant
Ipapo™ Virtual Assistant
Ipapo Virtual Assistant Web Version
Ipapo™ Virtual Assistant

How do we harness WhatsApp for E-commerce?

We have gathered that WhatsApp is the most used social media platform in Africa. Secondly, we agree that it is convenient and fast in conveying messages. In addition, we also agree that the total time spent on smartphones by people in a day averages a quarter of a day.

With these facts at hand, it can be seen that it is imperative for African businesses to embrace the use of WhatsApp virtual assistants as an interface between the conventional E-commerce platforms and WhatsApp which is the most used social media platform in Africa.

These WhatsApp virtual assistants can be used for but not limited to the following

  • Customer or user registrations
  • Customer or user notifications on new products or updates
  • Product inquiry
  • Answering frequently asked questions
  • Placing orders
  • Buying downloadable products
  • And many more

Businesses in Africa should, therefore, start exploring the use of WhatsApp virtual assistants in order to harness WhatsApp for E-commerce. In fact, if an entrepreneur in Africa is serious about making it in this very competitive business environment, he or she should incorporate WhatsApp in his or her marketing strategy.

harness WhatsApp for E-Commerce

You can explore here the products that we offer which help businesses to harness WhatsApp for E-Commerce.

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