By Matthew Taylor
As of July 2017, Chinese super-app WeChat had 900 million daily active users, with 50% of those using the app for more than 90 minutes daily. This is more than Facebook, which last year reported its average daily user time was 55 minutes.
Lauded for its stickiness, WeChat has moulded a unique, addictive platform that has combined lifestyle, commerce, communication and service into one completely immersive, disruptive life hack. Since its launch in 2011, the all-conquering platform has transformed the fabric of China’s digital landscape.
Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Edward Lindeman, Chinese Specialist and Business Development Manager at Digital Retex, WeChat’s trusted European delivery partner. In his two years living in China prior to joining Digital Retex, Edward experienced first-hand the immense power and utility of WeChat and the way that it’s changing daily life. But also, he saw the vast potential for businesses to build real, tangible consumer relationships in-app.
Speaking on WeChat's mammoth adoption, to what the future holds for the app and consumers, here’s what Edward had to say:
There are a few simple reasons why Europe needs to sit up and take notice. First and foremost, WeChat is setting the benchmark for integrating mobile services into social media, something that is being targeted more and more by western mobile services and social media platforms. We know that social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are paying close attention to WeChat, wanting to copy some of the incredible online-to-offline functionality inside the app. And with WeChat’s incredible user engagement rates, it’s a great example to follow in an increasingly competitive digital and mobile space.
Ultimately, if you want to predict what the future of social media and digital commerce will look like in the west, WeChat is a great place to start.
Businesses traditionally use WeChat as a platform to share engaging content, in a similar way to how a company would do with social platforms in the West. This content can come in the form of articles, photos and videos that directly inform the user about a brand, and its latest offerings. WeChat is also widely used by brands as a customer service platform that allows followers to interact with a brand and ask it questions, as and when problems arise. In doing so, a brand can either respond in real time using trained staff or, as is being used more and more frequently, by using BOTS that recognise specific terms and questions. Naturally, with pro-active, intuitive and adaptive services, brands are integrating themselves closer within the lives of consumers through WeChat.
If, for example, I were a Chinese tourist following a luxury brand on WeChat, I could message the company’s page and ask where the nearest store to me is in any city around the world. To this, I can expect to get a response within a few minutes. In a wider context, we’re starting to see Facebook and Twitter pages also harness this functionality. Moving forward, I expect to see more sophisticated AI playing a key role in helping brands to build better, more tangible consumer relationships via their social channels.
One thing we know for sure is that people are spending more and more time on their phones in all parts of the world. Though our standard smartphone screen features tens of different apps like Uber, Deliveroo, Paypal, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Instagram, Google maps and many more, WeChat is showing us that it's possible to integrate these apps into one place. If a social media platform is able to replicate this effectively, then it has the very real potential to change social media from being a platform for communication and content consumption, to a place where people can also access an almost infinite range of online and offline services as well.
It’s hard to say exactly where WeChat will head in the coming years. It’s been one of the world’s biggest innovators in the social media space and the consumer internet in general; predicting what they’ll do next is the million-dollar question!
I will say, though, that I think there will be a couple of main focuses that will mirror wider consumer and technological trends. Firstly, on the branding side, WeChat will likely focus on providing brands with better tools to create even richer content experiences through tools such as AI and virtual reality. Ultimately with WeChat, better consumer experiences mean higher consumer adoption and usage – this will therefore always be at the strategic focus of everything WeChat does. At the same time, I’d be surprised if Tencent doesn’t try to grow WeChat’s share of the super competitive Chinese e-commerce market that is controlled by its rival partner JD.com, and its rival arch, Alibaba.
On the user side, you can already book taxis, pay utility bills, pay for things in-store and arrange doctor’s appointments through the WeChat digital wallet. Essentially, any service that can be handled through a digital product has already been integrated into WeChat. And whilst I expect there will still be continued on this side with the arrival of new services, I see Tencent turning their focus more towards improving the WeChat user experience overseas, where it has the challenge of re-creating and scaling the experience of the app in China. Because of this, it will be crucial for western companies that serve Chinese tourists, expats and student in the UK and Europe to pay attention to what WeChat is doing in order to continue adapting their services in line with the wants and needs of this key consumer group.
Sure. A day for a Chinese WeChat user could look a little something like this…
Wake up and check messages from friends and loved ones on WeChat.
Read news stories from official media channels on WeChat.
Hire a bike using WeChat’s mini-app to ride to work.
On your way, you stop for a drink in Starbucks and pay using the WeChat wallet.
After enjoying the drink you order, you recommend Starbucks’ new style of Frappuccino to a friend via WeChat and earn loyalty bonus points as a result.
Once at work, you sign into WeChat desktop to start communicating with colleagues about daily tasks.
Order and pay for lunch through WeChat’s Deliveroo equivalent.
Once finished, you leave a review of the food via WeChat.
As your Mum is coming over this evening to visit, you order a cleaner to clean your flat through WeChat.
You instantly pay the cleaner through WeChat’s digital wallet.
After checking your exes’ photos on WeChat moments, you decide that it’s time you went on holiday with your new partner.
You message your boyfriend and remind him that it’s time to book your summer vacation by sending through some options on WeChat.
You book the holiday using the WeChat wallet.You decide that you need some new clothes for the trip so you buy a few items on Uniqlo’s mini-app built into WeChat.
You hear that you need to get a vaccination for the trip so you immediately book an appointment at the hospital using its mini-app.
You book a taxi to meet your boyfriend for dinner using WeChat.
You receive messages from your Mum saying that she’s at your apartment, asking why you aren’t here too.
You message your apartment concierge to let your mum into your flat.
Whenever I’m talking to new people about WeChat, I always show them this video. It gives a great overview of the kind of behaviours that take place within WeChat, but also, it really brings to life the scale and impact of WeChat within Chinese life.
Edward Lindeman is Business Development Manager at Digital Retex.