Watford to become the UK's first WhatsApp high street

• Watford Borough Council is partnering with WhatsApp to create the UK’s first ‘WhatsApp High Street’ of businesses that are running their customer communications via WhatsApp Business

• WhatsApp is providing local businesses with training on the free-to-use WhatsApp Business App, to help them connect with their customers and manage the challenges presented by the pandemic

• Research shows that almost two thirds (65%) of small businesses in the UK have seen a drop in footfall due to coronavirus, with public concerns over social distancing in small premises seen as being the prevailing factor for customers staying at home

As Coronavirus continues to threaten the UK’s small businesses, WhatsApp and Watford Borough Council today announce their partnership initiative in support of the small business community: the UK’s first WhatsApp High Street. The initiative will support small businesses in Watford to help them promote their businesses on the WhatsApp Business app, and help them to connect easily with their customers at this difficult time. The initiative will provide the businesses with free-to-use digital tools from WhatsApp to help them manage the many challenges and customer questions presented by the pandemic, such as lockdowns, curfews and social distancing measures, which are threatening the livelihoods of our high streets.

WhatsApp is already the world’s most popular private messaging app, and has been a lifeline for millions of us as we find ourselves separated from our friends and families during lockdown. However, WhatsApp can also be a lifeline for businesses who are struggling to operate through the pandemic. Today, there are over 50 million users of the WhatsApp Business App worldwide, making it one of the most popular ways for small businesses to communicate with their customers instantly, and all using a simple service that their customers are already using to connect to their family and friends.

Watford Borough Council has worked with WhatsApp to get this first of its kind pilot off the ground. As part of the programme, experts from WhatsApp are providing training for an initial group of 12 local businesses on Market Street – a popular and diverse shopping road in the town centre – training them on how to use WhatsApp to support their business. Training will remain open for any small businesses in Watford interested in the scheme. WhatsApp Business acts as a shopfront for a company’s products and services, and helps businesses communicate with their customers during the challenges presented by COVID, such as managing social distancing in small premises, new opening hours, stock issues, table reservations or reduced menus.

The announcement comes as new research commissioned by WhatsApp and conducted by YouGov of over 750 ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses in the UK reveals that almost two-thirds (65%) have experienced a drop in footfall to their premises since the pandemic first struck. Among those businesses which have seen a reduction in footfall, customer unease over social distancing is seen as the main culprit (43%).

The majority (82%) of larger SMEs (100-248 employees) have chosen to respond to the challenges by increasing their use of online tools during the pandemic, however less than half (48%) of the smallest companies (<10 employees) have similarly increased their use of online tools over this period - perhaps as a result of a lack of resources. When asked what type of help they needed for their business to function effectively during the pandemic, help with improving customer communication (37%) topped the list, followed closely by the need for digital upskilling (33%) and marketing assistance (30%).

Quote from Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business – “It’s great to see small businesses using innovative digital tools like WhatsApp Business to help them adjust how they engage with their customers. We are always keen to encourage innovative partnerships to help grow local economies, and this collaboration between WhatsApp and Watford Borough Council is a fantastic way of combining innovation, digital skills and supporting small businesses.”
Dan Lenan, WhatsApp Partnerships Manager, said: “As high streets all over the country struggle with the economic downturn and with the huge challenges presented by Coronavirus, it is more important than ever for us all to support local businesses and keep our high streets alive and thriving. Whether it’s helping a retailer fulfil online orders, a restaurant to become a take away, or a beauty salon to communicate social distancing rules, the WhatsApp Business App can help people steer their business through these difficult times. We are very happy to partner with Watford to support their business community and to show that digital tools can support their recovery.”

Jamie Kelly, Manager of Underground Tattoos, said: “Getting a tattoo or piercing is a really personal experience. Customers like to talk it through and build up a rapport with the artist or body piercer. Setting Underground Tattoo up on WhatsApp Business is a no brainer – it means we can continue to build relationships with clients even in a world of social distancing and more limited appointments. The catalogue function on the app is great too – it means I can share example designs or curated ear designs with clients to look at on their phones. I’m really excited to see what WhatsApp can do for my business and my friends and colleagues on Market Street.”

The WhatsApp Business App was designed specifically for small businesses, with the goal of helping to make managing customer communications easier and quicker to manage. It is free to download, and is as simple and intuitive to use as WhatsApp itself, which has over 2 billion users worldwide.

Key features of the WhatsApp Business App include:

  1. Business profile: a profile that is unique to the business and separate from a personal WhatsApp account. The profile contains the main information about a business, relevant website links and contact information

  2. Catalogue: A gallery of hero products and services available to customers. These can be shared as a link within WhatsApp or on external platforms

  3. ‘Quick replies’ and automated messages: Save time by using templated quick replies to frequently asked questions, such as opening hours, prices, menus and directions. It is also possible for businesses to set an ‘Out of Office’ response

  4. Labels: to organise messages from your customers by category

  5. QR codes: making starting a chat with a business as quick and easy as possible

  6. Stickers: a range of business-related stickers that help communicate with customers, say thank you and get business done

For a full list of participating businesses and more information on WhatsApp’s partnership with Watford Borough Council please visit: