WeChat may take over the App Store – is there anything WeChat can’t do?

By Doris Li and Roy Huang

WeChat dropped its latest bomb, the Application Account. A new addition on top of WeChat’s highly successful Subscription Account and Service Account, the Application Account will allow businesses, government, media and other organisations to host Mini Apps on their official WeChat accounts. 

The Mini App, or xiao cheng xu (小程序) in Chinese, is a new breakthrough function of WeChat, which will enable WeChat users to get in-app access to a wide array of lightweight apps without needing to download and install. 

The Application Account is now open for registration, but the accounts won’t go live until the first beta test among a small group of businesses and developers is finished.

The release of an Application Account and Mini App has been perceived as another action taken by the Chinese tech giant to diversify its services and strengthen its ever-expanding ecosystem. The announcement has sparked a global discussion regarding whether this game-changing feature will replace traditional standalone apps so as to disrupt the current smartphone app distribution market. 

As its name indicates, the Mini App will be smaller in size and easier to access for WeChat users, while also requiring less development time and cost from the app owner. Taking advantage of WeChat’s mature platform and active community, app companies are able to save an immense amount of effort spent on app maintenance and user acquisition. 

For businesses that have existing apps, the WeChat Mini App adds a new channel to convert and acquire new users from the WeChat community and drive traffic to the business apps. For those who have app development in their pipeline but struggle with the cost and effort, the Mini App can provide them with an existing engaged user base to test the market with much lower risk and cost. 

E-commerce, travel, healthcare, fintech and retail sectors are among the businesses that are more likely to exploit the benefits brought by Mini App, as it will be a new shortcut for them to engage with their target audience in the Chinese market.

This is certainly not the first time that WeChat has drawn worldwide attention with its integrated functionality. A video recently released by The New York Times calling WeChat the ‘Swiss-army-knife superapp’ went viral on social media, providing a vivid story on ‘How China Is Changing Your Internet’. 

Since its launch in January 2011, WeChat has evolved from an instant messaging app focusing on communications functions such as text messaging, voice messaging, and photo sharing, to a multiple-service ecosystem which allows its users to read news, post feeds, call friends, pay bills, book taxis, shop online, make payments, transfer money, book tables at restaurants, make doctors appointments, and more. Chinese mobile users are now treating WeChat as the ‘new home screen’, with the majority of users going straight to WeChat after unlocking their phone. The versatile functionality of WeChat is capable of satisfying most daily needs, from online to offline. 

With the monthly active users reaching 806 million in Q2 2016, WeChat is now one of the world’s largest social media platforms and its dominance and ubiquity in China have been widely recognised all over the world. No doubt there is a great opportunity for global businesses to go past the old complicated market entry process and reach the evolving Chinese consumers in a few simple clicks. 

What businesses need to understand, however, is that WeChat itself is designed as a private communication platform, which means that no commercial activity should sacrifice the user experience. The right strategy, that understands consumers’ needs, can turn the channel into an effective commercial tool for businesses, while the misuse of the channel as a blatant brand propaganda tool will lead to the opposite.

Those who have achieved success with WeChat don’t necessarily understand every single one of the app’s abundant functionalities; instead, they are creative with even the most basic of functions. Some creative minds are turning group chats into live seminars, while others are engaging with their customers by giving out hong bao (a monetary gift).

Be bold with WeChat – that’s when you see how it creates possibilities that go beyond your imagination.

 

Subscribe to China Insiders

* indicates required