The rise of Telegram is one of the most exciting things in the mobile app environment in years.
Slowly but surely, it is morphing into the world’s mega app — likely in part modelled on the success of China’s WeChat — and the first one that is neither chained by Beijing’s regulation nor Silicon Valley’s ideological bend.
Far from being just a messaging app, Telegram is gradually moving into other areas of life, and it clearly has the ambition to become the default platform for many, or all, individual and professional needs.
Just yesterday (April 28), the company dropped another major update which shows the desire to move deeper into e-commerce and digital payments, which may eventually produce significant revenue.
Telegram Introduces Payments 2.0
With Payments 2.0, Telegram allows merchants to accept payments using several approved gateways — including highly popular Stripe — effectively covering over 200 jurisdictions around the world (i.e. the entire planet).
The feature was previously available through 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 boost in functionality, as it enables sales directly during communication with followers.
If you want to, you can create your own simple e-commerce store in Telegram, showcasing products and allowing customers to purchase them directly within the app — both on mobile and desktop.
Business owners can now build following on Telegram, communicate with fans directly, present their products and offer a direct checkout — all within a single app.
As a result, Telegram can effectively replace direct marketing tools (such as e-mail), live chats, social media accounts, customer support and e-commerce storefronts. It doesn’t even take commission for its services — the only fees you’re going to pay are the ones set by your payment processor.
But of course, it’s not as robust as a standalone store yet. Customisations are limited and it won’t work very well for very large shops, as displaying dozens or hundreds of products would be difficult.
But big stores don’t really need these features anyway. It’s the small sellers who stand to benefit the most from it, not least because the app and its functions are completely free.
In short, Telegram is now a platform where you can:
- Share content and links with followers.
- Organise groups where fans can interact with you and each other.
- Reach out to them through in-app push notifications they see on their phones.
- Provide customer support.
- Showcase your products and services.
- Sell them, send invoices and collect payments directly within the app using your preferred gateway, anywhere the world.
How To Start Using The New Features
I know you may be itching to give it a go, but the tech part is not quite so straightforward for laymen and is going to require a bit of work.
However, I’ve went ahead to simplify it into a short list of steps you need to take (alas, some help may still be required):
- First you will need to create your own Telegram bot, which is responsible for all the payment mechanics. You do so by going to the BotFather and following the instructions within the Telegram app.
- Using the same tool, you’re going to select your payment gateway — that you have to have an account with already — and just type in the necessary commands within the BotFather.
- Here’s where it gets technical. To actually add products to Telegram, you’re going to need a developer to write a bot for you or use an existing one prepared by someone else. This may also come in the form of a plug-in to your website, if you have one, e.g. running on Woocommerce. This way, your products could be imported into Telegram automatically.
Sadly, there’s currently no easy tool for creation of Telegram bots; but it may change with time, given how rapidly the app keeps adding features.
Ultimately, as a merchant, your benefits are immense:
- You save on marketing/CRM expenses – as you can interact with fans/customers directly, for free.
- You save on customer support solutions – using Telegram to handle inquiries is free as well.
- You save on hosting charges – as your store and your entire community could reside entirely or primarily within Telegram.
- You save on payment processing expenses – as e-commerce service providers (like Shopify) or donation services (like Patreon) typically add a commission on top of what the payment gateways charge.
Companies of all sizes are going to find something useful on the platform.
The shopping features are going to work like a charm for all small business owners, and creators of all sorts — bloggers, artists, YouTubers, podcasters and so on — can use it to collect donations, sell fan gear, premium access to content and so on.
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 one part of the update which has also added useful new features like scheduled voice chats — a great thing for both businesses planning meetings and popular figures inviting fans to tune in for a live show.
As if that wasn’t enough, Pavel Durov has announced that the next update, coming in May, is going to add robust new video features to Telegram calls, effectively taking on Zoom and other teleconferencing apps which have seen a surge in popularity during the pandemic.
The most amazing thing about all of these developments is that there’s really nobody willing to compete with Telegram on these features.
Will Other Messaging Apps Following Suit?
Quite unlike the Chinese developers of WeChat, Westerners are typically averse to bundling too many functions within one product. And since WeChat is unlikely to be a competitor outside of Asia, given global distrust towards Chinese apps, Telegram is really the only contender right now.
WhatsApp or Signal could potentially rise to the challenge, but the latter is right now only a messaging app and the former is owned by Facebook, which is unlikely going to use it to cannibalise its own business by adding features millions of companies are already paying for on its main platform.
It would also require an overhaul of its privacy, enabling users to — at the very least — hide their phone numbers before anybody is willing to interact with strangers.
Telegram is offering the best of all worlds – enough security, privacy and corporate independence to be trusted, enough simplicity to be widely use, and enough robustness to be a real competitor to existing, often expensive, solutions.
It’s taking on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom, and bites into e-commerce as well.
And the best thing is that it’s still only the beginning as new features are being added every few months. As such, it makes sense to start investing your time into the platform right now.
Featured Image Credit: Dado Ruvic via Reuters