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WhatsApp Business: Accounts & Features Overview (March 2021)

By September 26, 2019May 6th, 2021No Comments
WhatsApp Business: Accounts & Features Overview (March 2021)

New to using WhatsApp for Business? This is your all-in guide to WhatsApp Business. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of using Business WhatsApp including the types of WhatsApp Business Accounts, WhatsApp Business Features, WhatsApp Business Limitations, the pricing and how to get started depending on the business you have.

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WhatsApp Business Explained

What is WhatsApp Business

The Basics of WhatsApp Business

WhatsApp Business Features

WhatsApp Business App vs WhatsApp Business API

Infographic: WhatsApp for Business

What is WhatsApp Business

So what is WhatsApp Business and how did it come about? There was a time when WhatsApp costs 99¢ before it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion dollars. After the acquisition, WhatsApp became free and pledged to never have ads.

However, Facebook needed a business model to monetize its new gargantuan purchase. The answer? WhatsApp Business. Businesses were already using the regular app before Business WhatsApp exists, especially the use of WhatsApp Groups among salespeople.

For WhatsApp, it made sense for them to charge businesses to use the platform. And in January 2018, WhatsApp introduced WhatsApp Business.

Why is WhatsApp Business Important

With so many users on WhatsApp, it's hard to ignore the platform. In early 2020, WhatsApp hit 2 billion users, up from 1.5 billion users in Q4 2017. This is an amazing feat considering it’s approaching Facebook’s number at 2.7 billion users in Q2 2020.

But it's not just about the massive number of users – it's about engagement. WhatsApp users send about 65 billion messages per day, which is about 750,000 messages per second.

WhatsApp is important for businesses as there are now 2 billion users on the platform. 65 billion messages are sent per day and 80% of messages are seen within 5 minutes.
The Importance of WhatsApp for Business

Compared to traditional methods of reaching your customers like emails, 80% of messages sent to WhatsApp are seen within 5 minutes. In use cases where Business WhatsApp is used by universities, they have recorded a 99% open rate for messages.

Today, more than 5 million businesses are on the Business App and there are many more registered with an API account. For countries where WhatsApp is popular, it has become increasingly important for businesses to use the platform to reach their customers.

Where is WhatsApp Popular

With 2 billion users worldwide and being the most popular messaging app in 133 countries, WhatsApp is a great way to build relationships with your customers. But which regions actually benefit the most from using the platform for business?

Here is a simple rule of thumb. For Europe, Africa and Latin America you can expect WhatsApp is either a leader or has significant enough penetration that you should be targeting WhatsApp users in those countries.

WhatsApp is popular globally, mainly in Europe, Africa and Latin America.
Where is WhatsApp Popular Globally

The countries with the most WhatsApp users in descending order are India, Brazil, The United States, Indonesia and Mexico. As of 2019, India has 340 million users and Brazil has 99 million users.

Despite its popularity, there are also regions where WhatsApp takes the backseat. For instance, although the US is the birthplace of WhatsApp and has the third-highest number of users – the leading messaging app there is Facebook Messenger.

While other countries like Thailand, Japan and South Korea are dominated by regional apps like LINE and KakaoTalk. And in China specifically, WhatsApp has been blocked since 2017 and we don't expect them to lift the block anytime soon.

WhatsApp Business Basics

We’ve covered why WhatsApp Business is important, it's time to discuss the basics and how it affects the way businesses use the platform. To start, there are three key questions to consider before signing up for a WhatsApp Business Account:

  • Do WhatsApp Policies allow you to carry out your desired business activities?
  • What type of WhatsApp Business Account best suits your messaging needs?
  • Does using WhatsApp for Business fit within your desired budget?

In the following section, we’ll be answering these questions in detail. Let’s start with understanding the basics of Business WhatsApp Policy.

WhatsApp Business Policies

WhatsApp aims to provide a quality experience for its users. To ensure the platform remains safe and spam-free, businesses must abide by WhatsApp Business & Commerce Policy which protects users’ data and bans trading any illegal products & services.

This is a picture of WhatsApp Business Policy. WhatsApp prohibits content relating to illegal products, illegal services and brand violation.
WhatsApp Policies

In case you’re wondering what happens if you are caught in breach of WhatsApp's Policies, they can limit or remove your access to any WhatsApp Business Products indefinitely.

But let's assume you don't plan to break any laws and it is possible for you to carry out all your desired business transactions via WhatsApp. What's the next step? It's time to pick your WhatsApp Business Account.

Types of WhatsApp Business Accounts

This is where things get a little complicated. WhatsApp created two types of Business Accounts on WhatsApp – the WhatsApp Business App for small businesses and the WhatsApp Business API for medium to large businesses.

Business App Account

The Business App helps small businesses to separate their personal and work messages. Because it’s an app, businesses can easily reply to messages on the go. Outside of operating hours, businesses can also set automated greeting messages & away messages.

The app account is meant for one phone and one SIM card or number.
One Phone, One SIM Policy for App Users

To create an account, download the App onto a phone with a SIM card. Keep in mind, you will need a separate SIM card or number for Business WhatsApp. You cannot use the same SIM card as your personal WhatsApp account.

While getting started is as simple as downloading the app and buying a separate SIM, there’s also a downside to it whereby only one user to one device is allowed. Although, there is news that WhatsApp will soon allow up to 4 devices per app account.

Business API Account

WhatsApp API is made for medium to large companies looking to use the platform with multiple users for customer service & sales. Applying for an API account is a complex process and businesses cannot apply for the account directly from WhatsApp.

Businesses can only get a WhatsApp Business API account via WhatsApp Partners or Business Solution Providers (BSPs).
WhatsApp API: Account Application Available Via WhatsApp Partners (BSPs)

Instead, businesses must first apply for an API account with Business Solution Providers (BSPs) or also known as WhatsApp Partners. Essentially, they are the middlemen that give you access to WhatsApp API. Once approved, connect the API to a WhatsApp CRM like respond.io to start messaging.

Since the account is just an access to an API, the full potential of your account depends on your chosen BSP. The pricing for an API account also varies between different BSPs. We’ll discuss more on the pricing below.

WhatsApp Business Pricing

As mentioned, there are two types of WhatsApp Business Accounts – the Business App and the API. The amount you pay to use the Business Account depends on which account you create.

Business App Account

The WhatsApp Business App pricing is simple. WhatsApp doesn't charge for using the app, but there are some associated costs. You'll need a dedicated phone number because using the same number for personal and business WhatsApp is not allowed.

The business app pricing for WhatsApp is simple. WhatsApp doesn't charge for using the app, but there are some associated costs. You'll need a dedicated phone number because using the same number for personal and business WhatsApp is not allowed.
Business App Pricing: Free

If you have a dual SIM phone, you can buy an additional SIM card to insert and assign that number to the Business App. If you don't have a dual SIM phone, you'll need to purchase a new phone for this purpose.

Remember, you can only install the App on a single device. For additional users to have access, buy an extra phone you can pass around or alternatively, use WhatsApp Web. If you have teams of users, go for an API account.

Business API Account

Meanwhile, WhatsApp API is a pay-to-use service. Now you might ask what is the price of a WhatsApp API account. The answer depends on the BSP you sign up with. These BSPs will charge you their own pricing on top of what WhatsApp charges them.

For instance, WhatsApp does not charge BSPs for messages sent in response to a customer’s enquiry within a 24h window (Session Messages). For messages sent after 24h (Template Messages), WhatsApp charges the BSPs according to a rate card.

WhatsApp API is charged according to the number of Session Messages and Template Messages.
API Pricing: Depends on the WhatsApp Partner

In return, some BSPs charge businesses or end-users for both Session Messages and Template Messages. There could also be other fees like set-up fees, monthly fees or a fee for every monthly active user.

Interestingly, WhatsApp has recently announced they’ll be experimenting with a new pricing model in Mexico that’s conversation-based. It’s scheduled to go live in February 2021 and only users with a Mexican number will be affected. More details to come.

For a more detailed analysis and comparison of the pricing, our WhatsApp Partners & Pricing guide covers everything you need to know about choosing a BSP or Partner, based on the cost and your business’ needs.

WhatsApp Business Features: How to Use WhatsApp for Business

Now that you know the basics of WhatsApp Business, it’s time to explore the features. Note that there are key differences with how you can use messages, broadcasts, shopping and payment – depending on whether you’re using the App or API.

The following section will help you understand how to use business messaging with the App and API account, plus we’ll explore other new nifty features like WhatsApp Catalog and WhatsApp Pay.

WhatsApp Business Messaging

Messaging is a good place to start discussing WhatsApp Business Features and their limitations. As WhatsApp designed the App and API with specific categories of businesses in mind, the limitations associated with these two account types reflect that.

Business App Account

The Business App is designed for small businesses to message their customers. With the App, there are no messaging limitations as long as your business abides by WhatsApp’s Business Policy & Commerce Policy.

Businesses are also allowed to send an unlimited number of free messages in any format. Once your inbox gets busy, there’s a Quick Reply and Automated Greeting & Away Messages feature to help with managing your chats.

Messaging with the app is unlimited and any type of content is allowed.
Messaging with the Business App

Another flexibility with the Business App is the ability to send Contacts the first message if you have their number. Still, businesses are responsible for not spamming their customers to avoid their accounts from getting blocked or reported.

As WhatsApp takes customer experience on their platform very seriously, you’ll find there are even more messaging rules for the API account in comparison with the Business App.

Business API Account

As API users are usually larger corporations with more resources, there are stricter rules in place to prevent spamming. For a start, businesses have to gain active consent from their contacts before messaging them and also pay for messaging over the platform.

There are two classes of WhatsApp API messages – Session Messages and Template Messages. Anytime you respond to your Contact within 24 hours, WhatsApp counts it as a Session Message, while anything outside 24 hours is a Template Message.

There are two types of WhatsApp API messages - Session Messages and Template Messages.
Messaging with API Account

Template Messages require prior approval from WhatsApp and they must not contain promotional content. But since Oct 2020, WhatsApp has started allowing promotional templates in Indonesia & Mexico. We can expect more countries to follow soon.

Now that you know about Business WhatsApp messages, we’ll take a step further and look at how broadcasting works on both WhatsApp Business Accounts.

WhatsApp Business Broadcasts

By now you would have noticed the App has more messaging freedom than the API. The trade-off has been more messaging freedom in the App, more automation possible over the API. When it comes to broadcast, that App has a clear advantage though.

Business App Account

Over the App, broadcasting is simple and straightforward. Businesses are free to broadcast any form of content to 256 people per Broadcast List at a time. But only contacts who have saved your number can receive your broadcast.

Over the App, broadcasting is simple and straightforward. Businesses are free to broadcast any form of content to 256 people per Broadcast List at a time.
WhatsApp Broadcast

To help you stay organized, use the labels provided in the Business App. You'll be able to organize people into groups on the fly and send compelling, targeted WhatsApp messages en masse.

While it is easy to broadcast with the Business App, you’ll notice this is not the case for API Broadcasts.

Business API Account

To protect contacts from receiving spam and to ensure WhatsApp becomes a premier customer service platform, WhatsApp does not really promote API Broadcasts. The only conceivable way of sending a broadcast with the API is to use Template Messages.

To protect contacts from receiving spam and to ensure WhatsApp becomes a premier customer service platform, WhatsApp does not really promote API Broadcasts.  The only conceivable way of sending a broadcast with the API is to use Template Messages.
WhatsApp API: Broadcast

With the rule of sending only non-promotional broadcasts for most countries, the most common use cases for WhatsApp API Broadcast include businesses sending out booking confirmations, shipping alerts, appointment reminders and so on.

Next, we’ll look at a new WhatsApp Business Feature that was made available worldwide recently – the WhatsApp Catalog.

WhatsApp Shopping: WhatsApp Catalog & WhatsApp Cart

With the increase of shopping through chats and social media, it’s no surprise tech giants in the industry like Facebook, WeChat, LINE and KakaoTalk are all on the e-commerce bandwagon.

WhatsApp Catalog and Cart is a digital storefront for WhatsApp Shopping.
WhatsApp Shopping: WhatsApp Catalog & WhatsApp Cart

Unsurprisingly, WhatsApp being part of the Facebook-owned company had also started rolling out new WhatsApp Shopping features like WhatsApp Catalog and WhatsApp Cart to facilitate buying and selling on its platform.

As this is WhatsApp’s first venture in integrating e-commerce capabilities onto its platform, it makes sense for them to start with the Business App which has a lower entry barrier compared to the API.

Business App Account

So how does it work? The WhatsApp Catalog is made for small businesses to showcase their products and services. Customers can scroll through the listing, add items to their Cart and then message the business to confirm the deal.

The Catalog is made for small businesses to showcase their products and services. Customers can scroll through the listing, add items to their Cart and then message the account to confirm the deal.
WhatsApp Catalog and WhatsApp Cart for Small Businesses

For businesses, setting up your Catalog is a straight-forward process. Simply upload pictures of your products, add the descriptions and price. Once done, promote your business by sharing your Catalog link or product links in-app or on other websites.

As of July 2020, more than 40 million people view WhatsApp Catalogs every month. If this continues successfully, it could be a matter of time before WhatsApp adds this feature to their API as well.

Business API Account

Generally, adding any new features to an API is a costly, complex and time-consuming process. We believe this could be one reason WhatsApp started the Catalog feature with the Business App first.

If WhatsApp eventually brings this feature to the API, we can expect big businesses to also benefit from this as the number of WhatsApp shoppers grow. For instance, even big brands like Chanel & Christian Dior have their own digital store on KakaoTalk in Korea.

Naturally, this brings us to the next question – what about WhatsApp Payment? If customers can view your product listing, then the next logical step would be to allow them to pay in-app to complete the purchase cycle.

WhatsApp Pay

Unlike other features, integrating payment has been an uphill battle for WhatsApp. It’s mainly because setting up payment service in any country involves some form of government legislation and obtaining permission from the Central Bank.

Things might not always go as planned and this was what happened with WhatsApp Pay in Brazil. It was first rolled out in June 2020 but was suspended just a week after, in an effort by the Central Bank to maintain an appropriate competitive environment.

Although, things are a little different in India. While the initial inception of WhatsApp Pay did not face the same resistance from the Indian authorities in 2018, they’re facing a slow start in amassing user growth since their official phased launch in November 2020.

WhatsApp Pay is only available to regular WhatsApp App and Business App users.
WhatsApp Payment Availability

But this does not come as a surprise to WhatsApp who has confirmed the development, citing that it was a conscious decision by the company to slow down with onboardings to enhance customer experience before gaining traction.

As a result, WhatsApp Pay is only available to a maximum user base of 20 million users for now. It’s also currently unavailable in other countries but it’s likely to reach the international market later on if WhatsApp Pay proves to be a success in India.

To understand how WhatsApp Pay works, we’ll set the parameters for the following discussion. Firstly, what we know about WhatsApp Pay is relevant only to India and secondly, it’s only available to both regular WhatsApp App and Business App users.

Regular WhatsApp & Business App Accounts

Sending and receiving money via WhatsApp Payment is powered by the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) method, in partnership with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).

To use WhatsApp Payment successfully, users must first fulfil the following requirements:

  • Download or update to the latest version of WhatsApp App or WhatsApp Business App on iPhone or Android
  • Must have an Indian number that’s associated with your WhatsApp account, an Indian bank account and an active debit card
  • Set up a personal UPI PIN to authorize transfers between accounts
  • Retrieve your UPI ID or WhatsApp Payment QR code as it’s required to receive payment
  • Both sender & receiver must enable WhatsApp Payment to use the feature

Once done, users can send and receive money without any charges by WhatsApp. However, there could be other fees involved such as overdraft fees from banks or data fees from the mobile service providers.

While this solves the issue of enabling buyers to pay in-app after browsing a Catalog on WhatsApp, there are a few issues with using WhatsApp Pay for business especially in terms of data tracking, refunds and transaction limits.

Example of how WA Payment works in India.
WhatsApp Wallet: Example of How WhatsApp Payment Works in India

Business users will find that WhatsApp Pay lacks vital Business Analytics in the Business App. Aside from the transaction history which shows the sender name and amount paid, there is no breakdown on daily earnings or sales turnover.

This meant that businesses have to manually track these data on a separate software or platform. Plus, refunding is also an issue as there is no tab to issue a refund except to manually send the agreed amount back to the customer.

Ideally, there won’t be a lot of refunds as users are limited to only 10 transactions a day – not exceeding ₹1 Lakh (~USD$1,400) in total. However, the UPI limit varies according to your registered bank so it’s best to find out in detail first.

While far from ideal, it’s understandable that these are teething issues while the feature is new. We’d expect to see more updates in the future. Now you might ask, what about WhatsApp Payment for API accounts?

Business API Account

As mentioned, implementing any new feature in the App is easier than integrating it with the API. From a business perspective, it only makes sense for WhatsApp to iron these issues out in the App before adding the feature to the API.

While there is no mention of this in Facebook’s documentation, we’d expect WhatsApp Payment for API to roll out only sometime in 2022 or even later, starting with India when the facility is well-established.

WhatsApp Business App vs WhatsApp Business API

By now you should have an idea of which product is suitable for your business. In this section, we’ll summarize and compare the features of both WhatsApp Business Accounts.

Business App Account

The App is all about helping small businesses thrive. Here are some reasons to choose the Business App:

  • Very easy to onboard and start, buy a new SIM & download the App
  • Message any contact at any time, no messaging limitations
  • Send broadcasts to up to 256 contacts, any content is permissible
  • Supports WhatsApp Catalog and WhatsApp Payment
The pros and cons of using the Business App for WhatsApp.
Benefits of Business App & Some Disadvantages to Consider

Once your business starts growing, and you start dealing with a higher volume of messages, the downsides of the App will become clear:

  • Only one user on one device can use the account
  • Automation is limited to Greeting Message, Away Message & Quick Replies

Business API Account

An easy way to decide between the App and API is how many messages your business gets. If just one or two users cannot handle the volume of messages, choose the API account. For medium and large size businesses, the API has the following benefits:

  • Allows for unlimited users and devices
  • Supports connection to a WhatsApp CRM
  • Supports programmatic messaging like notifications
The pros and cons of using the API account for WhatsApp.
Benefits of the Business API & Some Disadvantages to Consider

All the above functionality makes the API a little more challenging to set up and run. This is because:

  • Features are pay-to-use, from setting up an account to sending messages
  • Creating a WhatsApp API Account requires approval from a BSP
  • 24-hour messaging window applies
  • Template Messages need prior approval and non-promotional content is prohibited (except Indonesia & Mexico)

In summary, WhatsApp Business is an excellent solution for businesses that serve consumers in countries where WhatsApp is critical. If you need any help with creating your WhatsApp Solution, don't hesitate to contact us.

Infographic: WhatsApp for Business

This infographic tells you all about WhatsApp Business, the type of WhatsApp Business Accounts, WhatsApp Business Features and the pros and cons between WhatsApp Business App and WhatsApp Business API.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article and you'd like to learn more about WhatsApp Business, please check out our articles on:

WhatsApp Business: Accounts & Features Overview (March 2021)
Serene Tan

Serene Tan

Serene is the Content Lead at respond.io. She was an ex-teacher with stints in Australia, Singapore and Japan before returning home. She's also an MBA graduate from the University of Wales Trinity St David, UK and a certified social media marketer from Digital Marketing Institute.

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