Smartphones are poised to replace wallets in China with online retailers set to reap the rewards of WeChat’s phenomenal growth
There’s a lot of talk about WeChat, and it’s because the chat app continues to lead the charge in China. Home to over 800 million monthly active users, it is used by both brands and people to keep in touch, but more importantly it’s regularly used for transactions. If someone books a taxi or buys a coffee in China, it’s likely that they will use WeChat to do so.
In 2016, a WeChat Data Report revealed that 200 million users have linked a payment card to their account, with 34% of users spending 72 USD per month, on the app. In 2015, this figure was six times lower. According to iResearch third-party mobile payments like WeChat Pay and Alipay tripled last year to reach 5.5 trillion USD.
But how does a retailer even begin to capitalize on the WeChat phenomena?
Anyone hoping to make a mark in China will be considering WeChat’s solutions for their brand, and it can be hard to know what the best approach is.
Jonathon Smith, Chief Executive of Hot Pot Digital and a Chinese eCommerce specialist, explains,
“There are two main ways to sell via WeChat and the distinction between the two is a bit blurred. One is the off-the-shelf WeChat store. These are template stores provided by the likes of JD.com, which obviously has a Tencent affiliation, or other third-party interfaces like Weidian. You can just plug these in and go.
The second way is to integrate WeChat functionality into their existing mobile commerce functionality. What happens here is that you click through but it feels integrated into WeChat for the end user. The problem… is that off-the-shelf stores are not very brand-able so for major fashion and luxury brands, the second option is usually the better one — but off-the-shelf is of course quicker and easier. If you integrate via API, then you have the added advantage of browsing and paying internally.”
But what does the WeChat audience look like?
According to the WeChat Impact Report 2016, by Penguin Intelligence, WeChat is home to a hotbed of “Super Users”. 36% of WeChat’s users qualify as “Super Users” i.e. they check the app more than 30 times per day.
Fashion brands are beginning to integrate their shops onto the social platform, providing a shopper experience which allows customers to stay within the familiar walls of the WeChat app.
WeChat are helping remove barriers for international brands
Tencent, the Chinese tech giant behind WeChat, is actively working towards ease of business for international brands. For example, brands can bypass licence requirements for goods sold on the platform. Similarly, they’re hoping to allow WeChat users to shop in stores while abroad using the app.
WeChat stores might not be the ground-breaking shake-up retailers are hoping for:
Although both H&M and Coach are active on WeChat, they have not yet set up WeChat stores, with their featured products simply hyperlinking to external localized sites, such as china.coach.com. It’s thought that one of the reasons might be the cost involved.
Louis Wong, Brand manager at Makin Jan Ma, explains why retailers are reluctant to open WeChat stores:
“To open a WeChat store you need to spend time responding to online customer service and you need to update information regularly. You also need to prepare an amount of stock to sell, and so far, we don’t have that much of a budget to run an official WeChat store.”
Jonathon Smith, Chief Executive of Hot Pot Digital and specialist on Chinese eCommerce, further explains,
“It’s been two years since brands have been able to open WeChat stores. It really looked like a game changer, and while there are brands doing well it hasn’t really been the monumental shake-up of China retail that we had been expecting. A lot of brands are building up their WeChat fanbase but then they’re not completing the puzzle with e-commerce.”
WeChat stores are a relatively new offering, whether the stores will transform into profitable revenue streams for global brands is yet to be answered. However, WeChat shouldn’t be discounted by luxury brands hoping to create brand demand in China, and could be used in conjunction with existing strategies to build an audience in the market. WeChat is simply part of a global brand strategy for China, and implementing it strategically will be key to gaining traction.