Facebook is quickly moving to boost its eCommerce presence in India following the purchase of a 10% stake in local internet provider Jio for $5.7 billion earlier this month.
As reported by TechCrunch, JioMart, an eCommerce division of Jio's parent company Reliance, is now testing an ordering system on WhatsApp which enables users to order common grocery items within the messaging app.
As explained by TechCrunch:
"[Users] can initiate an order by texting “Hi” to +91-8850008000, which prompts a link that opens a mini store on the browser, allowing them to pick a range of grocery products including toothpaste, snacks, tea and coffee, rice, and cooking oil. Once an order has been placed - which currently does not include a way to pay digitally - JioMart automatically assigns a neighborhood store to them and sends an invoice through WhatsApp."
TechCrunch additionally notes that more than 1,200 neighborhood stores are signed up to the pilot program, creating a valuable distribution network for the WhatsApp shopping experience.
The initiative reflects the utility-based approach that Facebook has been looking to implement via both Messenger and WhatsApp in other regions to make them a more essential link in various processes. That approach mirrors how Chinese messaging apps have become critical connective tools within that nation - WeChat, for example, is now used by more than 900 million Chinese people daily, and facilitates over $10 trillion in payments each year.
WeChat is such an essential tool in China that it's even being utilized by Chinese authorities to contain the current COVID-19 outbreak. In order to limit the spread of the virus, citizens are assigned a color code based on their relative level of risk, which is presented within WeChat or AliPay. In order to catch the train, enter an office building, a factory site, a park, etc., people need to show their barcode via their messaging app.
Such process is only effective because these messaging apps are so ingrained in Chinese culture, underlining the key role they now play in virtually every element of daily life for many Chinese citizens.
That vision is what lead to Facebook developing its Bots Platform for Messenger - at launch, Facebook hoped to make Messenger a key connective platform for everything, with users engaging with Messenger Bots to pay bills, buy groceries, do their banking, etc. But western users didn't take to Messenger bots as readily, and while there are some 300,000 Messenger bots in operation, catering to a range of use cases, they haven't propelled Messenger to become that next level connective tool that Facebook had hoped.
But in India, WhatsApp may be well-positioned to do just that.
WhatsApp has more than 400 million active users in India, the platform's biggest market, and given the nation has 450 million smartphone users overall, it clearly dominates the region. Indian users are also still adapting to the modern digital shift, so if Facebook can get in now, and educate users on how to use WhatsApp for more processes within this early phase, it could well become the critical app for everyday use - just as messaging apps have done in China.
And another key point of note - at 450 million mobile users, India is now the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China, while the number of mobile internet users in the nation is expected to top 850 million by 2022. For comparison, the US is expected to reach around 300 million internet users in total at the same stage.
That's why Facebook has invested $5.7 billion in Jio, and why it's now looking to make a push into Indian eCommerce - because it needs to get in now in order to educate Indian users on such process, and ingrain such behaviors into the Indian mobile shift. If Facebook can build on WhatsApp's massive market presence, and shift that usage into eCommerce and other areas, it stands to become an essential connective tool for the world's second-most populous nation, strengthening its position for ongoing business growth.
As such, it's interesting to note Facebook's movements in this respect, and to consider what that could mean for future cross-border opportunities. As Facebook builds on its potential, it also opens the door for more connectivity via its apps, which could help more brands reach into the Indian market, broadening opportunities.
Facebook's been working for years to get into the Indian market, and it's wasting no time in taking the next step.
This is a crucial element for the company's growth plans moving forward.