The younger amongst us will have no idea what ‘yellow pages’ means. Let’s get everyone on the same page first.
The telephone directory
For those of us who grew up in the 90s, there was a magical book called the telephone directory. This book had the landline number of every single person in the country, plainly printed next to their government name.
I can only imagine the riots that would start if mobile network operators ever attempted the same. A book listing every cell number and the name it was registered under? Not in this age.
The telephone directory was amazing as it was but they somehow managed to sweeten its appeal. They tacked on some extra pages in there that really shot the utility of the directory through the roof.
The yellow pages
Yellow pages in the internet age
You’d think because we can Google anything these days business listings would be useless but you’d be wrong.
To this day, many Zimbabwean businesses do not have any presence on the web. You can Google all you want, you won’t find them.
The physical old yellow pages we had in the 90s are long gone. They are available online now but they are not as extensive/useful as they were back in the day.
So, in this country we lost the physical yellow pages and got the less useful online yellow pages. It’s crazy but in many cases, it is harder now to find novelty product merchants than it was in the 90s.
A middle aged man with a thicc book would find a sculptor in Arcturus faster than you could on your PC.
WhatsApp could offer a solution
While many Zim companies have no web presence, almost all of them have WhatsApp accounts. They might not be taking advantage of WhatsApp business features yet but at the very least, the merchants themselves have personal WhatsApp accounts.
Right now in Zimbabwe, most entrepreneurs are utilising groups on WhatsApp to market their wares. There are thousands upon thousands of business centred groups where business people meet to trade.
The problem is that groups are limited to 256 participants. Further, there really isn’t a way to discover these groups if you don’t know someone already in them.
So right now, we have businesses, merchants and vendors on WhatsApp trying to market their wares. We also have consumers looking for various products/ services and coming up empty. The two groups of people looking for each other and coming up empty.
WhatsApp is testing a feature which could be the solution to our little problem.
Yellow pages on WhatsApp
The pilot is in Brazil and they say the feedback they get will determine the next steps with the feature. I foresee the feature being popular enough to get a worldwide release before the end of 2022. That’s quick for WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is trying to help us sort the businesses that are on WhatsApp by category and alphabetically. Exactly like how the yellow pages were.
This would solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. Businesses would have better visibility and consumers would be better able to easily find and compare suppliers.
Of course, this only solves the discovery problem and not the delivery one. The current solutions we have will remain as they are. Most merchants in our WhatsApp groups do not offer overnight delivery like Amazon. WhatsApp cannot help us with that.
What do you think though? Do you see the feature being as popular and useful as I imagine it will be? Let me know in the comments below.