During times like the ones we're all living through, physical stores and purchases have been either closed/halted or limited. If it isn't to the supermarket or pharmacy that you're going, then you better stay home — unless you need to go to the hospital or are forced to be present at the office. 

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been paralyzing normal life for over two months, though it's been a global threat since January. "Normal" life, the one behind environmental catastrophes and idolizing public figures to name two independent examples, now consists of surgical masks and social distancing. The upsides to this unfortunate situation are cleaner air, increased appreciation towards healthcare professionals and employees, and magnified focus on the 1 percent's willingness to help. For some reason, the upsides sound like how normal life should've been all along, but that's for another article on another day.

Countries have been on lockdown for a while now, banning incoming flights that could potentially bring the virus with its passengers, closing down schools and universities, asking employees to work from home, and requesting stores and malls to temporarily close their doors. Such measures ensure no large groups of people will form at inessential locations, which will minimize the spread of COVID-19. These measures also affect the economy. 

To mend the situation and cut losses to a minimum, companies including luxury brands are opting for online deliveries through messaging application WhatsApp.

High fashion to affordable luxury, brands are adopting new ways to sell

A screenshot from L'Occitane's Middle East website. Source: L'Occitane

"For those seeking retail therapy, Karl Lagerfeld are now inviting their UAE customers to shop using WhatsApp," a statement by high fashion retailer Karl Lagerfeld, founded by the eponymous late fashion designer and photographer, reads.

An SMS by French body and home products retailer L'Occitane en Provence, better known as L'Occitane, encourages its Lebanese customers to browse its website and order through WhatsApp. The company provides the same service in Bahrain and Qatar as well. 

Quarantining at home is mandatory but not synonymous with no shopping, and that's what companies want you to remember. However, when it comes to WhatsApp deliveries, I can't help myself but think of shisha kiosks and illegal DVD shops that were one of the first businesses to launch deliveries through the messaging app in the Arab region.

After such an image comes to mind, I finally manage to find the common ground between these two polarized fields. 

Small businesses that can't afford to pay web designers and developers to obtain a customized website and giant companies that already have it all - website, marketing team and budget, shipping partnerships, etc. - stand equal on WhatsApp. The way each business uses and presents itself on the app remains different. 

WhatsApp's popularity is on the rise; it has reached 2 billion users, only half a billion behind Facebook. But to shop luxury items via the app takes away much of the experience of going into a Louis Vuitton store, for example, to go through goods priced at thousands of dollars. Sitting on your couch in your stained pajamas or underwear ordering whatever you please via an app you use to talk to your friends will remain the same, whether your basket holds two kilograms of tomatoes or the newest jacket from Karl Lagerfeld's Summer Collection. 

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, presenting on stage the new WhatsApp Payments. Source: Rocket Bots

Who thought WhatsApp would be transformed into a wannabe e-commerce platform for brands to sell their products through? Well, prior to 2018, small businesses did; post 2018, WhatsApp hopped on the same train to make some cash.

It's not like the ever-popular messaging app, even more obviously now owned by Facebook, willingly planned to offer its neatly designed, simple interface and encrypted messages free of charge to businesses to make money at first. Created in 2009, the application's purpose was almost gratis communication among users — there was a 99-cent yearly fee in some markets in its early days. A few years later - after its acquisition by tech giant Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion - the goal became fully gratis and safe communication. Project into the future (a couple of more years) and WhatsApp Business is launched. 

The latter's aim is to generate profit; as a first step, to make up for the $19-billion acquisition which was thought way too high six years ago but understandable now. Since WhatsApp pledged to not integrate ads in order to keep its use simple and uninterrupted, there was no solution to monetize the app. This is when WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Business API (Application Programming Interface) saw the light in 2018. 

Through these two, small businesses and large enterprises can chat with customers, schedule messages, and accept payments, though the latter isn't yet available in all countries. As for WhatsApp, it makes money by charging a fee for each message a company sends. It is estimated that over 3 million businesses now use either application on a daily basis. 

Behind the complexities of such apps, the outcome for users does not change. You can send a nude in one instance and then scroll through the catalog of some high fashion store in another and place an order, all while using the same beloved app. Request a shisha with an extra bowl for $7 or shop your favorite $60 face cream, or do both simultaneously. On WhatsApp, the difference is near invisible and status is forgotten.