Founded in 2011 and owned by Tencent, WeChat is increasingly being cited as a blueprint for the future of digital commerce and brand marketing, not only in China but internationally.
The app now counts over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, up from 889 million in Q4 2016, according to Tencent CEO Pony Ma.
But what exactly is WeChat, and how can businesses take advantage of it to connect with free-spending and digitally-mature Chinese consumers, both in China and overseas?
A Payments Powerhouse
It’s a common misconception that WeChat is just China’s answer to Twitter or Whatsapp. While it may have started off as a social messaging platform, that description no longer befits its capability. Today, WeChat offers an ecosystem of services so ingrained in China’s day-to-day life that Beijingers joke that it is now more important to carry a phone charger than a physical wallet.
Perhaps most importantly, WeChat now functions as a digital wallet, allowing users to make in-store payments for goods and services, send and receive money from friends, and easily ‘go dutch’ on payments with other users. Some businesses also allow users to place orders directly through WeChat, and subsequently track their deliveries without leaving the platform.
WeChat Pay is China’s second most popular payment option, only slightly losing out on the top spot to Alibaba Group’s Alipay. The rise in popularity of these services in the world’s second largest economy has been astronomical; in 2017, the value of mobile payments in China overtook the worldwide totals of both Visa and Mastercard.
The Super App
Taking the so called Super App’s functionality to previously unseen levels, WeChat’s ‘Mini Programs’ are apps that users can install directly within WeChat, instead of having to use Google Play or Apple's App Store.
Development time is short for Mini Programs, enabling brands to create advanced and highly flexible user experiences, seamlessly integrated within the WeChat ecosystem. Since WeChat introduced the functionality to the world in January 2017, over 170 Million daily users have interracted with over 580,000 mini programs. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the total population of Russia, engaged every single day.
China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security recently further entrenched the technology in everyday life in China under a new programme that replaces traditional state-issued social security cards with digital version tied to users’ WeChat accounts.
Developing a strategy in China
When all major Western social media platforms are banned, brands have no option other than to look at alternatives to find a voice in China. For eWave client Vans, WeChat has been vital to their engagement strategy in the region. Leveraged as a publishing channel for organic content and paid advertising, WeChat has given Vans a platform from which to build magnetic customer connections with the Chinese audience and take advantage of the region’s unparalleled opportunities for growth.
In 2017, Strathberry, a Scottish handbag brand, launched a Chinese New Year themed range by partnering with a popular Chinese fashion blogger, Mr. Bags. With over one million followers on the WeChat platform, Mr. Bags’ audience bought all 400 of the limited edition bags within three hours of their launch. The month after, Mr. Bags worked with luxury fashion brand Givenchy to promote their ‘Horizon’ line of handbags - this time, the bags lasted just 12 minutes before selling out.
“For me, the success of a project is not measured by how many bags we sold in a short period of time or how much revenue we generated. It’s really about how much impact it creates,” Mr. Bags told The Business of Fashion.
Seizing the opportunity of Chinese Tourists
With around 1.2 million Chinese tourists visiting Australia every year spending an average of $8,300 AUD per person - the highest amount of any visiting nationality - finding a way of connecting with these consumers can provide businesses huge competitive advantages, not to mention access to a new, growing stream of revenue.
Boasting over 500,000 WeChat followers, Tourism Australia recently unveiled a Mini Program that was intended to maximise the potential gains for the Australian economy, while minimising any friction in the transaction process by featuring retailers that offer WeChat Pay. The program provides Chinese visitors with information on local tourist attractions, restaurants, and retailers without having to leave the app.
With WeChat’s undeniable influence on life in China, and it’s increasing importance to businesses outside of the region, the platform should play a central role in digital strategies for any brand with international aspirations.
For those not yet ready to take the step of launching a Mini Program or accepting Mobile Payments via QR code, it’s important to at least take note of the way that WeChat has created completely seamless, mobile-first consumer experiences for Chinese users.
Whether it’s through WeChat, Facebook, or the next social commerce platform that comes along, this model represents the shape of things to come for the rest of us. Watch this space.