WeChat started out as a social messaging app but has become an essential part of an integrated online and offline (O2O) ecommerce strategy for brands operating in China.
The popular app, which boasts almost 700 million users, acts as a central interface for brands to connect and engage consumers using content marketing and to execute campaigns to drive customers to a point of sale, whether online or offline.
Brands can drive consumers to a purchase from WeChat by:
- Developing an in-house ecommerce platform within WeChat
- Linking a brand’s WeChat account to a third party ecommerce platform such as Tmall or JD.com
- Driving customers to a stand alone, mobile-friendly website
What is WeChat and why are brands using it?
Aside from the opportunity to engage WeChat’s 700 million users, brands are drawn to the platform because they can connect with the Chinese consumer in a more authentic and meaningful way. The closed nature of the app has been both a blessing and a curse for brands as the consumer must actively search out, and connect with the brand before it can engage them with content. However, it means consumers connecting with a brand on WeChat, do so to engage in a genuine relationship.
Consumers connect with the brand on WeChat by scanning a QR code. QR codes are everywhere in China – often displayed at the entrances or check out counters of bricks and mortar stores, restaurants and cafes. They are also displayed on websites, Weibo and Youku pages. As we have reported earlier, savvy foreign retailers are displaying their QR code in overseas retail stores so they can continue the relationship with their Chinese consumers upon their return to China.
Since WeChat Wallet was launched in 2015, Chinese consumers are also using the QR code feature to pay utility bills, go Dutch when out with friends, book a taxi, visit a doctor, buy movie tickets and reserve seats at restaurants. For brands, the wallet makes it even easier and more seamless for Chinese consumers to make purchases online or offline using their mobile phones.
Here are some of the ways brands are using WeChat for ecommerce:
1. Establishing a WeChat in-house ecommerce platform
The WeChat shop system is still new and the search capacity to locate brands or product is rudimentary.
However, for brands with an existing WeChat following, an in-house ecommerce platform allows users to buy from the brand without leaving the app and using their embedded WeChat Wallet for payment. This makes it a seamless shopping experience.
Here is what the in-house WeChat ecommerce page of home care product brand Soapnut Republic looks like:
By scrolling down, the consumer can view each product without having to load new pages. The user experience is made easier with the four prominent icons – order, cart, profile and language – running along the bottom of the page.
It’s an intuitive and simple format: click on the product to add the to the cart, and continue shopping or check out.
Once shopping is completed, the customer has the choice to pay either by card or using the WeChat Wallet capability.
Bobby Mitchell, founder and director, Soapnut Republic, says WeChat and mobile payment is how people are moving in China, and the business decided to follow suit by trialing the in-house WeChat ecommerce shop.
“Everyone in China is using WeChat everyday, so it’s about marketing to them on something they are already on all the time,” says Mitchell.
Soapnut Republic’s WeChat ecommerce site was launched in April, so it is still quite new, but forms one of a number of sales channels for the brand. However it is hoped that the launch of a content marketing strategy and a loyalty program will help drive more sales through the in-app store.
2. Linking a WeChat official account to a third-party ecommerce platform
China has thousands of third-party ecommerce players. Two of the biggest ones are Alibaba’s Tmall and Tencent affiliated JD.com.
What’s interesting about China is the way brands can leverage sales from one ecommerce platform to another. For example, when customers following the Moleskine account on WeChat want to make a purchase, they are redirected (within the WeChat app) to the brand’s mobile-friendly store on JD.com.
“WeChat isn’t always a means to a sale, but a platform to land on and to take the consumer to a different part of the purchase journey,” says Aline Davies, communications director, Curiosity China.
That journey starts with a consumer scanning a QR code to connect with a brand on WeChat. From there they can receive regular messages from the brand including product information, coupons, loyalty incentives – all of it to increase brand awareness and drive consumers to purchase in store or on any number of other online channels.
Shanghai-based Davies makes regular purchases from expatriate online grocery store, Kate & Kimi.
Davies visits the store’s desktop website to make her online orders, then when it gets to the final check out stage, she is offered the option to pay using her WeChat Wallet. This involves scanning a QR code from the desktop with her mobile phone to make the payment instantly through her WeChat Wallet. She is then sent a notification in her WeChat messages confirming the payment.
3. Using WeChat to drive followers to a stand alone mobile-friendly website
Coach uses its WeChat official account to engage its followers with content marketing. There is information about new products, an about us page, events and activities.
When consumers click on the shop drop down, they are taken offsite to Coach’s mobile-friendly website.
Chinese shoppers can click on what they want to buy, it goes in the cart and payment can be made with Alipay or WeChat Wallet.
Davies says Coach is a great example of omnichannel marketing in China. By becoming a member, Coach customers are rewarded for their loyalty regardless of where they shop – whether that is online or offline.
“The membership makes Chinese consumers feel special and recognized anywhere they shop, and it gives them a reason to come back and shop at Coach again,” says Davies.
Amazon Prime was launched in 2005 as an express shipping membership program and more than a decade later it has tens of millions of subscribers who enjoy a lot more than just free, fast shipping on millions of products Amazon sells.
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