The rise of Telegram has been one of the most exciting things to do in the mobile app environment in years.
Slowly but surely, it is turning into the world's mega-app – probably modeled in part on China's WeChat – and the first to be chained neither by Beijing's regulation nor by the ideological curve of Silicon Valley.
Not just a messaging app, Telegram is gradually moving into other areas of life and clearly has an ambition to become the standard platform for many or all individual and professional needs.
Just yesterday (April 28), the company released another major update showing a desire to dig deeper into the e-commerce and digital payments space, which can ultimately generate significant revenue.
Telegram introduces Payments 2.0
Payments 2.0 allows merchants to use Telegram to accept payments through multiple approved gateways – including the hugely popular Stripe – effectively covering 200+ jurisdictions around the world (i.e. the entire planet).
The feature was previously available via bots, which was a bit clunky. You had to create a separate bot that customers would communicate with, but payments can now be used directly in all chats, channels and groups.
This is a massive increase in functionality as the sale can be made directly while communicating with the followers.
If you want, you can create your own simple e-commerce store in Telegram, showcase products and give customers the option to buy them directly in the app – both on mobile devices and on the desktop.
Business owners can now build on Telegram, communicate directly with fans, showcase their products and offer direct purchase – all in a single app.
As a result, Telegram can effectively replace direct marketing tools (like email), live chat, social media accounts, customer support, and ecommerce storefronts. It doesn't even charge any commissions for its services. The only fees you have to pay are those set by your payment processor.
But of course it's not as robust as a stand-alone business just yet. The customizations are limited and don't work very well on very large stores as it would be difficult to display dozens or hundreds of products.
But big stores don't really need these features anyway. It's the small sellers who benefit the most, not least because the app and its features are completely free.
In short, Telegram is now a platform where you can:
- Share content and links with followers.
- Organize groups where fans can interact with you and each other.
- Reach them with in-app push notifications that they see on their phones.
- Provide customer support.
- Present your products and services.
- Sell them, send invoices and collect payments right in the app through your preferred gateway anywhere in the world.
How to start the new features
I know you might be itching to try it, but the technical part is not that straightforward for the layman and requires a bit of work. You can read the detailed description here.
I've also simplified it to simplify a short list of steps you need to take (unfortunately, help may still be needed):
- First, you need to create your own Telegram bot which will be responsible for all payment mechanisms. You do this by going to BotFather and follow the instructions in the Telegram app.
- Using the same tool, you select your payment gateway that you already need to have an account with and simply enter the required commands into BotFather.
- This is where it gets technical. To actually add products to Telegram you need a developer to write a bot for you or to use an existing one made by someone else. This can also be done in the form of a plug-in for your website if you have one, e.g. runs on Woocommerce. In this way your products can be automatically imported into Telegram.
Unfortunately, there is currently no simple tool for creating Telegram bots. However, this can change over time as the app keeps adding new features.
Eventually, As a retailer, your advantages are immense::
- You save marketing / CRM costs as you can interact directly with fans / customers for free.
- You save on customer support solutions – the use of Telegram to process inquiries is also free of charge.
- You save hosting fees because your business and entire community can reside entirely or primarily in Telegram.
- You save on payment processing costs – since e-commerce service providers (like Shopify) or donation services (like Patreon) usually add a commission on top of the fees of the payment gateways.
Companies of all sizes will find something useful on the platform.
The shopping features will work like a charm for all small business owners, and creators of all kinds – bloggers, artists, YouTubers, podcasters, etc. – can use it to raise funds, sell merchandise, premium access to content, etc.
If you really wanted to, you could build an entire business just on Telegram and never leave the app.
And mind you, this is just part of the update that also added useful new features like scheduled voice chats – a great thing for both businesses planning meetings and popular personalities who invite fans to join in for a live Turn on the show.
As if that wasn't enough, Pavel Durov has announced that the next update, due out in May, will add robust new video capabilities to Telegram calls to effectively make Zoom and other conference call apps that have seen a surge in popularity over the year to take on pandemic.
Photo credit: Pavel Durov / Telegram
The most amazing thing about all of these developments is that there really isn't anyone willing to compete with Telegram in these roles.
Will other messaging apps work?
In contrast to the Chinese developers of WeChat, Westerners are usually reluctant to bundle too many functions in one product. And since WeChat is unlikely to be a competitor outside of Asia given the global distrust of Chinese apps, Telegram is really the only competitor right now.
WhatsApp or Signal could possibly rise to the challenge, but the latter is just a messaging app right now, and the former is owned by Facebook, which is unlikely to use it to cannibalize its own business by adding functionality that millions of businesses already have pay on its main platform.
It would also require a privacy overhaul so that users could at least hide their phone numbers before someone is ready to interact with strangers.
Telegram offers the best of all worlds – enough security, data protection, and enterprise independence to be trustworthy, enough simplicity to be widespread, and enough robustness to be a real competitor to existing, often expensive, solutions.
It competes against Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom and also intervenes in e-commerce.
And best of all, this is still just the beginning as new features are added every few months. Therefore, it makes sense to invest your time in the platform right away.
Selected image source: Dado Ruvic via Reuters