How WhatsApp is trying to become WeChat of India

On April 22, 2020, Facebook made a significant investment of over INR 43,000 crore in Reliance Jio, acquiring 9.99% of the business. The incident served as the cornerstone of Whatsapp’s potential master plan to become India’s WeChat.

WeChat, a well-known social media network in China, has over 1 billion monthly active users (MAUs). The app’s Chinese users use it for a variety of things, including social media, shopping, gaming, food delivery and booking taxis. Due to the app’s deep integration into Chinese culture, 61% of active users open it more than ten times a day, and 94% of users open it daily.

It is perhaps unsurprising that due to its all-encompassing business model, WeChat has been able to – slowly but surely – integrate into the daily lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. Conversely, rival WhatsApp, which boasts an impressive over 2 billion MAUs, of which almost 25% are Indian users, is still widely seen as less competitive by comparison.

The majority of Whatapp’s global revenue is generated by billing “Whatsapp Business” customers. Although Facebook planned to generate revenue by placing advertisements between “status updates” on Whatsapp, it was eventually forced to abandon the action plan due to the imminent possibility of a massive backlash from from its users.

Latest Whatsapp Features

Whatsapp attempted to integrate a payment system into the app as recently as February 2018. It successfully received approval for integration from the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) in 2020. Since then, Whatsapp introduced the UPI payment system; currently, this feature is available to around 100 million users, as reported by NPCI.

With the launch of payment feature, WhatsApp has also enabled another new feature which allows its users to shop exclusively on “JioMart” using Whatsapp. Users can simply text “Hi” to JioMart number to purchase and explore the products by tapping the “View Catalog” option.

While the addition of these features could be seen as a first step towards Whatsapp’s broader strategy to become the go-to app for its Indian users, the company assures that there is more in store.

Upcoming updates

  • In addition to his ‘Band’ feature, WhatsApp recently announced the integration of additional functionality of ‘Community’ within the app. This feature will allow users to unite multiple small groups under the Community feature and share messages with multiple groups at once.. Whatsapp believes the Community feature will “make it easier for a school principal to bring together all the parents in the school to share must-see updates and create groups about specific classes, extracurricular activities or volunteer needs” .
  • Whatsapp is also should add ‘Instagram Reel’ featureaccording WABetaInfo, which reports exclusively on upcoming app updates. Implementing this feature would play an important role in WhatsApp’s larger goal of integrating Facebook-owned products.
  • WhatsApp has chosen to provide “Whatsapp Insurance” on the platform in an effort to diversify into the financial and social sectors. The instant messaging service has chosen to offer its subscribers “micro-retirement” schemes and health insurance. Among the first things to be rolled out in the app are the “HDFC Pension” plans and the “SBI General” health insurance coverage.

Privacy issues

In the wake of Facebook’s privacy scandal, other affiliated apps have also come under scrutiny and distrust from their users. WhatsApp is no exception. Some time ago, the app invoked public fury for swapping its user data with Facebook in a bid to improve its user experience.

Although WhatsApp has always assured its users that their data is fully protected, the loss of credibility with its users can be attributed to many factors. For example, the app requires users’ contact information to work. By disclosing this information, users are unknowingly giving access to information about their clients, doctors, plumbers and several other personal and professional businesses. In contrast, similar apps like “Signal” have gained credibility with users by solving this problem by assigning a “hash” value to contacts.

Adding to Whatsapp’s woes, several instances where a quick Google search revealed many users’ personal contact details have also been highlighted in the mainstream media. Although the problem has since been resolved, the trust of the average user has not yet been restored.

Future plans

It is quite obvious that Whatsapp intends to grow into a much larger entity in the near future. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also pointed out that careful attention is needed to understand how users transact across various platforms, the roles of businesses and advertising in the context of those transactions, and the best way to offer a single platform, or “super app”, for all the private services needed by its users.

However, this begs the question: could Whatsapp be that platform for its Indian users?

In light of Tata Neu’s recent collapse, it’s plausible that Indian users aren’t entirely inhibited by the idea of ​​a ‘super app’. For example, it is customary for Indian users to access separate apps for shopping for lifestyle products or clothes and another set of apps for payments, or for watching videos, or sharing photos, or ordering food or transport.

This habitual use of separate applications has, over time, created comfort of understanding and ease of use for its users, especially in India. It would indeed be convenient to bring all these disparate functions together under the umbrella of a “super app”, much like WeChat. However, this seems to be infinitely more difficult in the Indian context.

Lance B. Holton