Did you know that WhatsApp is the world's most popular messaging app to date? With an overwhelming 2.4 billion global users (read potential customers), WhatsApp has surpassed Facebook Messenger and Twitter. Its acceptance rate is so high amongst ages 16 to 45 that experts believe it has heralded a new era of customer communication for eCommerce companies.
In 2018, Facebook (now Meta) launched the WhatsApp Business and API version to assist eCommerce businesses with conversational commerce. This means WhatsApp Business has opened multiple avenues of interactions with customers intending to convert them into shoppers.
In this article, we delve deep into answering all your questions regarding WhatsApp Business API, which has broadened the scope of conversational commerce.
A Quick Snippet about WhatsApp Business API
The WhatApp API is a program interface you integrate with to avail all the features of the WhatsApp Business service. The API lacks a front-end user interface, so it requires some solutions or personnel who can create one instead.
Ideally, you can connect it to your own backend system or employ a Business Solutions Provider (BSP) who can take over the task of integration for you. They are also skilled in creating custom solutions.
The WhatsApp API offers tons of features to communicate with customers at a large scale. It can be used by your support agents to resolve customer-raised tickets, market products and manage customer relations.
We will discuss the big advantages WhatsApp API has for eCommerce in subsequent paragraphs. For now, let’s understand the two versions of the API that Meta has designed.
1) WhatsApp Cloud API
The Cloud or web API version is provided and hosted by Meta (or Facebook Developers). This means that you integrate with the Facebook Developer servers to run it.
The WhatsApp cloud API generates instant approval from Facebook, thereby significantly lowering implementation time. It’s also freely available, eliminating another barrier to access entry for eCommerce startups and small entrepreneurs. More importantly, it has the exact features as its counterpart, WhatsApp on-premise API.
Here are the advantages that WhatsApp cloud API offers its clients:
Facebook handles all system maintenance costs and upgrades, enabling you to reduce infrastructure costs.
Facebook gives you direct access so that you remain the sole administrator of the API.
Facebook upgrades the API with new features automatically.
Facebook allows you to manage multiple chats on multiple devices with the cloud API version.
2) WhatsApp Business API (On-Premise API)
Unlike the new cloud version, the On-Premise API requires to be hosted on the native server of your company, i.e., the storage system capturing WhatsApp information flow. Alternatively, you can use the API by collaborating with a third-party BSP to use their server machinery instead.
If you choose a BSP like Wati or AiSensy, it will act as the intermediary between you and Facebook. It will upgrade any software changes implemented by Facebook, and regulate customer conversations with chatbots. There are many such SaaS solutions in the market that lend their platforms for you to run the API and initiate business messaging.
The on-premise API has its own set of advantages:
You own the infrastructure. In case you deploy it with your tech team, you can eliminate hosting charges from BSPs.
You control customer data security and regulations or dictate your terms to partner BSPs.
You implement software upgradation and manage certificates.
The system uptime is in your control.
How to Connect with WhatsApp API for eCommerce?
Depending on your business needs and technological resources, you can either use a BSP or Facebook’s proprietary server infrastructure to host the WhatsApp API.
1) For WhatsApp On-Premise Business API
If you choose the on-premise WhatsApp API you will either have to internally coordinate it with your server or outsource the process to a BSP. Many companies prefer to assign the API onboarding to others to avail real-time support from them.
Here are the steps you can follow to implement the On-Premise Business API:
a) Get a Business Solution Provider
As mentioned above, a BSP is a third-party software well-versed in WhatsApp API integration and its successful implementation. BSPs are coming in particularly handy when eCommerce retailers do not have an in-house team to run the API.
However, it is absolutely critical that you partner with software authorized by Meta. You can visit the partner directory listed on Facebook. For reference's sake, here are a few names: 360dialog, AiSensey, and CBOT.
There are quite a few things you need to consider before choosing your ideal WhatsApp solution provider. For example, some of these BSPs act as CRMs with their native features in marketing products and sending opt-ins. Alternatively, some BSPs act as connectors. They provide you with its app interface and extend further integrations with associated partners.
Similarly, you should also understand if your BSP offers classic sign-up or embedded sign-up. Classic signup involves a business agent who processes your application and onboards you. This is usually a manual process and involves a lot of time.
The embedded process is a self-service model where merchants onboard themselves automatically after filling out a form. Other decisive factors include BSP price, language, geography support, marketing templates, and compatible campaign formats, etc.
b) Create a WhatsApp Business Profile
The business profile is the fundamental aspect of your WhatsApp presence. It records all your basic business information, including name, business description, address, contact number, cover photo, email, and website.
The account creation is incomplete without connecting your phone number associated with your WhatsApp account to the BSP. You can either buy a phone number or port your existing phone number. WhatsApp has different tiers of phone number that gives variable access to business-initiated messaging.
Phone number tiers are Facebook’s way of associating different messaging limits on businesses. For example, an unassigned phone number tier will allow you to converse with 50 unique customers in a 24-hour session. A tier 1 number allows you to interact with 1k unique clients. Tier 2 puts a cap on 10k; tier 3 limits you to 100k, and tier 4 has no limitations.
Every business either starts at Universal Trial Tier or Tier 1, depending on your BSP policies. Businesses can then upgrade from one tier to the next by following its rule, such as maintaining their account quality.
c) Verifying the On-Premise API account
Since businesses rely on the BSP to trigger API client calls, the integration process is handled by them. The last step in sealing the deal with your BSP involves account verification. After your phone number and business profile are recorded, your BSP will wait for Facebook to verify your business and approve your account.
2) For WhatsApp Cloud API
Since the cloud-based WhatsApp API resides in Facebook in-house servers, the process of integrating with it differs from the on-premise model.
This web API works when businesses make a client call to Meta’s Graph API or initiates a webhook call to trigger events. The API calls are made to send messages, receive order status, broadcast group messages etc.
Here are the steps you can follow to access the web-based API:
a) Create Facebook Developer’s Account
It goes without saying that you will need to open a Facebook Business account alongside a WhatsApp Business account. Once you sign up with Facebook Developer, it will verify your business details.
Nowadays, Facebook also allows users to sign up without verification, but creating an account is compulsory. The signup process requires certain mandatory information such as your WhatsApp Business account number.
You join the Developer's platform as an app to manage a business. As soon as you establish identity, you can configure the WhatsApp Business app in the registration process.
b) Link Business Phone Number
Just like in the previous instance, linking your business phone number is a must. Facebook will also use this information to schedule its payments from you.
The phone number you give shouldn’t be of unauthorized formats like a toll-free number, universal access number, etc. A six-digit verification code will be sent to you to ensure its authenticity. After this, your account is generated.
c) Send or receive Text Message
Once your number is linked and you have selected the WhatsApp Business integration, you can send a text message to your business account to establish a seamless connection. You can trigger the message from the cloud API backend to check if the connection is established.
d) Select Pricing and Payment Methods
The last step is to configure pricing and payment methods based on your phone number tier, the number of conversations you wish to initiate, and your geographical location.
Top 5 Key Features of WhatsApp APIs
The API is built to support the customer service and marketing efforts of medium and large businesses. Therefore, there are service level differences between the WhatsApp API and WhatsApp Business API. In this section, we reveal the top WhatsApp API features for eCommerce companies.
1) Business-Initiated Conversation
WhatsApp Business allows two forms of communication, customer-led conversations, and business-initiated conversations. As the name hints, businesses can send notifications, alerts, updates, and messages to customers who opt-in to receive them.
Since the API version is designed to scale up business conversations, the API version allows you to interact with unlimited customers (based on your phone tier). Moreover, it broadens WhatsApp broadcasting capabilities by extending messages to 10,000 users simultaneously. The app version broadcasting feature is restricted to 256 contacts.
2) Product Catalogs
The catalog feature transforms your business profile into a storefront by incorporating your product list in the profile section. You can include product images, prices, website URLs, and product codes in the catalog. WhatsApp API further allows you to send personalized product recommendations in the customer’s chat inbox from the catalog.
3) Multimedia Messaging
Like WhatsApp App, eCommerce retailers can customize the API to build interactive messaging templates using WhatsApp’s multimedia library. Merchants can use multimedia like audio, video, GIFs, Images, stickers, and PDF documents for deep conversations.
Using multimedia also helps customer support agents to enliven conversation and share information in audio-visual formats.
4) Quick Replies and Canned Replies
Quick and canned replies are fast message templates that you forward to customers whenever they raise an expected query. You assign keyboard shortcuts to answers for frequently asked questions. This fast response tactic isn’t limited to text; it involves images, audio, and video.
Chatbots are automated programs that interact with customers 24/7. Chatbots can be fed with information on resolving common queries and programmed to divert customers to support agents whenever required. While WhatsApp does not have its native chatbot, eCommerce retailers can use the chatbots developed by their BSPs or any other third-party solution.
5 Major Benefits of using WhatsApp APIs for eCommerce
For those curious to understand how you can leverage WhatsApp Business for eCommerce success, here are five common use cases you can adopt:
1) Text Messaging Versatility
You can proactively engage customers with endless messaging activities. As described above, you can use quick replies or canned responses during the live chat to answer commonly raised questions.
Other formats include WhatsApp broadcasting messages to several customers. You can also share the live location of delivery agents during door-to-door delivery schedules. Because WhatsApp supports various multimedia, you can craft audio replies and videos. You share order booking confirmation by sharing invoice pdfs.
2) Customer-centric Marketing Methods
WhatsApp Business takes away customer anxiety and marketing clutter with targeted and concerted marketing efforts. For example, sending personalized holiday messages to customers’ chats is much more effective than sending emails. There is always a 90% chance that customers will read the message on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp Business allows you to filter and categorize customers; you can curate tailored marketing experiences for different shoppers. This means you can engage in messaging outreach with gift bundles and product kits for VIP customers or create customer groups for loyalty programs.
3) Quality Controlled Customer Support
A seamless customer support always needs a two-way conversation medium where you can directly address customer queries. It also means that you should be available to customers who are mostly present.
Many online shoppers today, especially millennials and GenZ, are avid mobile users. Since WhatsApp is primarily a mobile-based messaging app, they can reach out to you without a hassle. WhatsApp’s synchronous messaging means that customers don’t have to wait on phone calls or emails to receive your response.
4) User-Friendly Sales Channel
Build trust in your brand by formulating a user-friendly shopping experience on WhatsApp. You can imitate an in-store experience with a welcoming message to customers. You can send your product line or product catalog and follow up anytime during the customer purchase journey.
WhatsApp versatility allows you to chat and exchange audio clips, video calls, and phone calls as and when requested. Salespeople can generate leads, follow up on leads, and close deals on WhatsApp with friendly messaging.
5) Notification and Alerts Feasibility
Customer notifications are great ways to not only engage with them in their purchasing journey but an important tool for retaining them. Over WhatsApp, you can send any notification template and alerts, from cart abandonment to pending payment reminders.
You can alert customers by sending ‘out for delivery’ messages, delivery tracking URLs, delivery feedback surveys, etc. At the same time, you can collect customer information and responses that would further aid you in the marketing process.
WhatsApp Business is an ingenious tool for eCommerce communication success. With WhatsApp Business API, retailers can devise marketing strategies, lead interactive conversations and aid in sales.
The API has a strong suite of features that has the potential to help businesses scale their operations. Given the positive impact it has on businesses, incorporating it into their business model is highly recommended.
1) How can WhatsApp be linked to an eCommerce website?
The first step is to create a WhatsApp Business account. Thereafter you can either install the WhatsApp chat widget into your website hosting platform or create an opt-in form and float it on your website. Once the customer responds to it, you can direct them to your WhatsApp chat using a popup redirection.
2) What is the pricing structure of WhatsApp API for ecommerce?
WhatsApp API, if used with the help of a BSP, requires monthly operating fees. In addition, WhatsApp charges businesses based on conversation, the region they are based in, and the number of clients they interact with daily.