Sep 2018

Unless you are in a country where WhatsApp is banned, you will rarely find someone who isn’t using the app for their day-to-day communication. Whether it’s a quick message to be sent to your mother or a meeting location to be shared with your colleague, WhatsApp is your go to app on the phone.


Up until my recent 6-month stint in Manila, I had used the app to stay in touch with family and friends only. However, my yearning for comfort food and the paucity of Indian food essentials in the supermarkets eventually landed me in a couple of WhatsApp groups run by Indians who sell (Indian) groceries and packed meals in the city.

As packets of Maggi, Little Hearts, and MDH masala made way to my cabinet and transformed my Manila kitchen into an Indian one, it struck me how efficiently these small business owners have been leveraging a free app to increase their customer base and boost businesses for their mom and pop stores. The entire process of ordering and receiving the grocery was simple and smooth. All I had to do was ping the seller with my requirements on Whatsapp and pay the delivery guy who had brought the goods at my doorstep. From my transactions with the other sellers, I learnt that the ones who do not have an in-house delivery boy use Grab Delivery service to get the goods delivered at the client location.

The internet is already replete with case studies of how businesses across different countries are using Whatsapp to run campaigns or send personalised messages / notifications through Whatsapp Business. In this article, I have focussed on sharing my observations on how the groups in Manila are using the app to promote their businesses and grow their community, and what’s the way forward in Whatsapp marketing.

Following are the things that the admins of the business groups are doing well:  

  • Sending a Welcome Message

Every time a new member is added to the group, the business owner sends out a welcome message to the customer, along with a catalogue of the goods and services they offer. This helps the owner build a rapport with the customer and initiate a one-on-one conversation to better understand the customer’s requirements and preferences.

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  • Sharing Catalogues / Food Menu / Guidelines / Updates Regularly

The sellers keep the group alive by frequently sharing catalogues (along with images) about their current stock and the new products.

For example, the meal service providers  share the menu at least twice a day, along with precise details of the process of ordering and getting the parcels delivered.

The sellers also keep the customers updated about the non-working days or if there’s any change in the delivery schedules or charges.

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  • Sharing Client Testimonials

Client testimonials can go a long way to spread the word of mouth, build credibility and convert a potential customer into a real one.

Many of these businesses follow-up with their customers personally to learn about their shopping experience and share the same on the group. It was one such testimonial on the group that encouraged me to go ahead and buy the items.  

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  • Sharing Product Recommendations

While posting client testimonials is a common marketing practice in today’s time, some of the grocers share product recommendations on the group after using them personally.

I think there could not have been better messages on the group than these recommendations to remind me of how ‘Babu kaku’ (our grocer in India) endorsed a brand of biryani rice over another to my mom a few months back.


  • Instant, Personalised Messages

In today’s day and age when customers are said to have the attention span of a goldfish, a platform like Whatsapp is really helpful in sending out real-time, personalised messages enabling sellers to connect with their customers easily.


From the above points, you’d agree that these small businesses have really transformed Whatsapp from a messaging platform to a social-CRM-display marketing channel. What is interesting is that the app is the only marketing channel for most of these small businesses that are growing slowly in the Manila market. A potential question that can arise is — “Can this kind of business model, with Whatsapp lying at its core, be adapted to any market?

The answer is — no, the success of these businesses does not lie in the use of Whatsapp as a marketing channel, but for a number of key factors, which are as follows:

  • The businesses have correctly identified the gap in the market — high demand for Indian groceries vs supply of limited options in the supermarkets.
  • They are selling items at a price lesser than the market. A wholesome Indian veg meal that costs PHP 700-900 in the Indian restaurants (that are already few in number in the city) is cooked, packed and delivered by an Indian aunty for just PHP 200!
  • Good products and personalised service is helping to spread a positive word of mouth about these businesses (some of them have as many as 6 Whatsapp groups with 256 members in each of them).


Moving forward as these businesses grow, following are the things that I’d like to see them explore on Whatsapp:

  • To increase engagement:
    • Use multimedia such as images/ videos/ emojis to create themed posts so that they can be identified in one go
    • Fix specific time slots to hold discussions with the community
  • To draw insights about the community:
    • Analyse data on the platform by using tools such as WhatsAnalyzer or ChatVisualizer
    • Use survey forms to collect user feedback and analyse the data to upgrade the stock, operations, customer service, marketing techniques, etc.
  • To create an integrated experience across the channels:
    • Integrate social media channels like Facebook with the app to create a seamless connected experience  
Rittika Das
Rittika Das

Analytics Consultant, meticulous and adventurous 🧗‍♀️

At work, she is one of the strategic consultants for data and analytics projects and ensures that the delivery is always results-driven 📊

Outside of work, she runs her own cooking channel on Youtube showcasing Bengali recipes 🥘 every week, exploring new restaurants🍴, learning new yoga asana 🧘🏻‍♀️ and reading Historical/ Mythological Fictions 📚