WhatsApp tests directory feature to connect customers with businesses

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The move is part of Facebook’s continuing attempt to boost e-commerce on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is trialling a new directory feature that allows users to search for local businesses from within the app.

The feature is currently only being tested in São Paulo, Brazil, and the trial is said to include thousands of businesses.

WhatsApp described the business directory as a “fast, safe and convenient way” for users to find local shops, restaurants and businesses without leaving the app. It also aims to help businesses expand their reach, share business information, and connect with new customers for free.

Currently only open to select local food, retail and education businesses in central São Paulo, WhatsApp said the feature will be rolled out in more geographies and for more kinds of businesses over time, including those using the WhatsApp Business app.

WhatsApp also released a video explaining how eligible businesses can apply for its directory using a CNPJ number, a government-required ID to operate as a business in Brazil. Once an application has been submitted, it will be reviewed by WhatsApp and the business will then be notified if the application was successful.

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This is Facebook’s latest attempt to boost e-commerce through WhatsApp.

In March, Brazil’s central bank approved the roll-out of WhatsApp payments for peer-to-peer transactions that don’t involve merchants. In 2017, the messaging platform was testing payments in India and it finally rolled out the service there in late 2020.

Facebook’s VP of business messaging, Matt Idema, said in an interview with Reuters this week that the new directory feature could be the primary way that users start a commerce process on WhatsApp. He said that businesses often promote their WhatsApp numbers on packaging or websites, and this new feature is set to make it easier to connect them with customers.

WhatsApp said that it has partnered with a third-party research agency to improve the directory for all users.

Head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, added on Twitter that the directory is being built “in a private way”. “We’re not logging your location or what businesses you browse,” he wrote.

Last week, WhatsApp Ireland was fined a record €225m for GDPR breaches from the Irish Data Protection Commission.