WeChat, the popular social media app in China, is attempting to revolutionize the status quo by introducing WeChat mini programs. The feature was launched in Jan 2017. WeChat mini programs are similar to apps but there’s no need to install or uninstall them. They won’t take up any storage space on your phone. They sit within WeChat.
You can scan QR codes or input the names of the programs on WeChat to launch them. Once you’ve finished using the programs, you can simply quit.
So… what does it mean for businesses?
As of January 2018, WeChat mini programs had 170 million daily active users. Half of the users were from first- and second-tier cities. There were over 580,000 WeChat mini programs, 1 million developers and 2300 third-party platforms in the ecosystem. Examples of mini programs include retail (offline to online shopping), e-commerce, everyday services (e.g. traveling, shared economy, finance, restaurant and more), government services (e.g. security, medical, tax and postal services).
There are many other examples of how brands use mini programs to interact with their customers. In Nov 2017, for example, April Gourmet has opened its first fully automated supermarket in Beijing and customers were asked to use April Gourmet’s mini program to shop. DFS, a luxury retailer, introduced its first WeChat mini program to allow customers to pre-order duty-free products.
Besides practical applications, WeChat has recently introduced mini games as well for its users. WeChat said it would not create a mini program store. It hopes that the use of mini programs will be triggered by users’ actual needs.
For example, passengers can simply scan a QR code in a Chinese coach station to buy tickets. There’s no need to download any apps or wait in the queue.
Examples of WeChat mini programs
DiDi Chuxing is China’s largest ride-sharing company (it acquired Uber’s China unit in Aug 2016). You can hail a car by opening the mini program within WeChat. There’s no need to download any app.
Mobike is a bicycle-sharing operator that’s super hot in China at the moment. You can use the mini program to locate a bike and unlock it.
This is an example of a business card scanning mini program that sits within WeChat.
A travel service mini program that allows you to book trains, flights and hotels.
According to WeChat’s latest data (as of Sept 2017), over 20 and 200 industry and sub-industry categories are covered by published mini programs respectively. So far, the most popular industry categories by monthly visits are transportation, e-commerce, utilities, lifestyle services and tech. It’s still a bit early to fully assess the effectiveness of mini programs. However, given how digitally-savvy Chinese consumers are, it’s important to stay tuned to how mini programs are received and the impact it has on the economy and society.
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