WeChat Mini Programs, the “wow” phenomenon in the China digital landscape
Being the “Facebook of China” and reaching 1.1 billion Chinese users, WeChat is known as the omnipotent messaging app developed by Tencent, a world-leading internet and technology company. Starting in 2017 WeChat launched mini-programs, that offer task management, networking and media, gaming, e-commerce, virtual store tour, coupons, and other services. These interesting semi-hybrid apps run inside WeChat and could be viewed as a program inside an app, or even a “function as a service” that can run without downloading.
Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat explains mini-programs in the following way: “ Finish and Leave”. This means the mini-program isn’t meant to hook the user, but to provide instant value like ordering food delivery, car-hailing, registering for an event, buying a movie ticket, watching live streaming, and much more.
With WeChat mini-programs, Chinese netizens don’t need to download native apps for every single task. While our smartphones are chaotically full of apps, the WeChat users’ mobile devices are nothing of that kind. Let’s imagine you order cappuccino a few times a month, do you need to have the native app of the coffee shop next door to be installed on your device?
WeChat Mini Programs are becoming a must for luxury brands in China
After the unprecedented downturn in the luxury market in Europe and North America in 2020 (some brands lost up to 80% of their revenue), China became a market of primary importance for luxury brands. In fact, China was the only country where the market of luxury brands experienced nearly 50% positive growth, reaching approximately $50–55 billion. It became more than obvious for companies that they need to choose China to spend their marketing money. The question was where can Chinese audiences be found?
Well, the answer is WeChat.
Shortly after foreign companies realized that WeChat is a powerful sales-booster thanks to mini-programs and in-app stores, many of them launched collaborations with Tencent to gain more visibility, develop loyalty programs, and attractive online services.
To be more efficient in the Chinese market some luxury brands like Bulgari and Dior started using the pop-up store technique thus creating a feeling of urgency for the customers. This generates considerably more sales in a limited time and pushes the product to the next level.
Some other mini-programs like that of Longchamp give the opportunity to customize bags and make a unique item that would match the customer’s tastes.
In 2018 Burberry also launched a mini-program to act quickly and capture the attention of the young generation who are considered to be the future spending power. Like many other luxury brands, Burberry had an official account on WeChat where they constantly updated the brand story and new season arrivals. After the launch of the mini-program though the consumer experience and sales were enhanced dramatically. The WeChat mini program is called ” Burberry Space ” where the user gets a virtual pet in the form of a cartoon fawn, and to encourage engagement the mini-program pushes its users to explore the content first to unlock new characters and outfits. By scrolling through different images, users can learn more about the brand’s story, events, and new season arrivals, and even upload photos of themselves wearing Burberry’s clothing or bags. Even more engaging is the customers’ experience in Burberry’s flagship store in Shenzhen. To suit Shenzhen’s reputation as a tech hub the mini-program allows visitors to book one of the three themed fitting rooms, pre-select the clothes and play their favorite music while they are trying clothes on. Moreover, they can also use the mini-program to book a table at the store’s cafe and make appointments with stylists.
What’s coming next?
When it comes to selling online, the retail industry in China relies primarily on traditional eCommerce platforms. Orders fulfilled on these platforms are generally subject to “usage fees” of between 8% and 20%. Mini-programs however do not charge usage fees, so businesses retain all revenue generated from the platform. This will remain one of the major reasons for brands to continue using WeChat mini-programs in the future.
WeChat’s vision is to provide new concepts all the time to reinvent the expectations of luxury retail. Consumers appreciate these new types of stores which are becoming increasingly important and functional for brands.
In terms of accessibility, the mini-program LiveStream is a game-changer. Its rising popularity is mostly due to the live visual presentation of the products and the opportunity to purchase during the streaming itself. Chinese customers are fond of online social interaction, so they enjoy interactive Q&As, distribution of discount coupons, and lucky draws run by live-stream hosts. New trends such as using 3D models, VR movies, and AR filters connect social and retail environments and give the opportunity to adapt to the needs of Chinese consumers and remain competitive in the market.
WeChat Mini Program Development outside of China
As of 2019, WeChat expanded the use of its Mini Program to overseas entities, allowing them to develop their Mini Programs using a foreign business license.
Within China, individuals can register and create their own Mini Programs. However, for overseas Mini Programs, only companies are allowed. Moreover, almost everything is possible via Mini apps in China, which is not the case for overseas Mini Programs.
Whether they are individuals or companies, China residents can register a mini program developer account, and create and launch their own WeChat Mini Programs. However, this is not the case with foreign residents. As of 2019, WeChat expanded the use of its Mini Program to overseas entities, allowing them to develop their Mini Programs using a foreign business license.
While China-registered companies can have numerous features via Mini Apps, for overseas entities, there are still some limitations. For example, the live-streaming feature introduced in February 2020 is not available on overseas mini-programs yet. On the other hand, overseas mini-programs are open to a number of business categories like tourism, retailers, and services like food delivery, taxi, and hotel bookings.
Gyumri(Armenia)-based Digital Silk Road center is one of the overseas tech companies that started WeChat Mini Program development in March 2022 and after 4 months they launched the company’s first mini program called 亚美尼亚欢迎你 Visit Armenia. The mini program is a travel guidebook for Chinese free individual travelers and travel agents, which will help them put tours together to Armenia. During the upcoming development phases, the company will add new features that will allow travelers to book attraction tickets, check reviews, arrange airport pick-ups, have a real-time translation, and create postcards in destinations of Armenia.