QR codes might seem old school in the fast-paced world of digital marketing, but in China, they have transformed communications app WeChat into a world-leading example of mobile social commerce.
Last year, we wrote about why QR codes have taken off in China. It may seem surprising to some, as it’s fair to say that QR has not had the same impact in Europe and North America.
The success of QR in China is mainly due to the country’s popular mobile messaging platform WeChat. Each time the app is downloaded, a QR code reader is embedded into the user’s phone.
Perhaps, if Facebook had done the same here, or perhaps Apple had released iPhones with a pre-installed code reader, things may have been different here.
There are now more than 600 million people using WeChat (or Weixin as it’s known by its Chinese users).
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.
This is what the user interface looks like inside the WeChat user’s WeChat Wallet feature:
The user links the wallet to a Chinese bank account. The system works more like a direct debit system, where users top up their wallet rather than having money deducted directly from the bank account.
It also means that WeChat acts as an interface between the consumer and the vendor. At no point does the vendor have access to the buyer’s bank details.
The key here is mobile. Like many new and emerging markets in Asia, China is a mobile first country.
According to eMarketer, 88% of China’s 700 million internet users are going online using a mobile. WeChat’s innovation started for mobile, and continues to evolve for mobile.
According to Nic Tinworth, customer experience director, Lab Concept:
This [mobile commerce] is specific to Mainland China, it’s a mobile first consumer market and that mobile commerce has grown with ecommerce since Alibaba launched Taobao.
He says an important differentiator for Chinese consumers, is that while they may research a product on desktop, they will buy it on a mobile.
Here are some examples highlighting the simplicity of the QR code payment inside the WeChat Wallet feature:
1. Online movie payments
In our previous story on QR codes in China, one reader mentioned our omission of payments.
As an example, he talked about the simplicity of buying and watching online videos in China.
Misha Maruma says when it’s time to pay for a movie, he scans the QR code that pops up on the screen using the reader in WeChat and in a matter of seconds the movie has been paid for using WeChat Wallet.
2. Booking, buying and redeeming movie theatre tickets
By clicking the ‘Movie Tickets’ feature inside WeChat Wallet, the user is taken to WeChat’s movie app, WePiao.
The user is asked to select their city. It then brings up movies currently showing in that location.
After selecting the movie, the theatre location, and seats, the user inputs a six digit WeChat Wallet pin number and the rest is done. A keycode for redeeming the ticket at the theatre is then sent to the user as an instant message.
At the theater, the user enters the code into a kiosk, and the ticket is printed.
Alibaba’s Alipay also uses a similar system.
Some restaurants have established sophisticated platforms inside WeChat.
For example, popular chain restaurant Dian Dou De (點都德) in Guangzhou, uses a location feature to show users where it closest branches are, distances and table wait times, (including breakdowns on table sizes).
Once the user has picked their restaurant, they join the virtual queue.
The user can then view the menu, which includes pictures and prices, order, and pay all within the WeChat platform.
4. Booking a doctor, paying medical bills and ordering pharmaceuticals
Anyone who has visited a Chinese hospital knows what a time-consuming experience this is. People queue from the early hours to pre-pay the registration, queue to see a doctor, queue to pay the bill, queue again to pay for meds, and queue to receive the goods.
Some hospitals have set up accounts on WeChat allowing patients to book ahead, and pay the pre-registration and prescriptions bills.
Each hospital will offer different services on WeChat depending on their CRM and how much they want to invest into the system. WeChat is just the platform, how hospitals decide to use it, is up to them.
5. Booking a taxi
Didi Kuaidi is the result of a merger between the taxi-hailing businesses of two of China’s biggest technology companies – Tencent (parent company of WeChat) and Alibaba in February 2015. It was set up in part to take on Uber’s expansion in China.
Through the WeChat Wallet ‘Order Taxi’ feature, users can book and pay for the ride without reaching for cash or card.
6. Go Dutch
Of all the WeChat Wallet features, being able to share a meal with friends without worrying about how to split the bill, has to be one of the best!
No longer do diners have to worry about having enough cash, or going through the complicated process of working out whose credit card is whose at the end of the meal.
The ‘Go Dutch’ feature lets friends split the bill easily. Unlike a bank transfer, there is no wait time.
When the money is sent between friends, it moves between wallets instantly.
7. In-store retail payments
Uniqlo, McDonald’s, Pacific Coffee and 7-Eleven are some of the brands allowing customers to pay in-store with their mobile phones.
When it’s time to pay, the user allows the vendor to scan the personal QR code from their WeChat Wallet and the money is instantly deducted from the user’s account.
Vendors don’t need a special scan either. Entrepreneurial street sellers can also receive payment so long as they have a WeChat account. The consumer scans the vendor’s QR code from inside the wallet’s ‘Transfer’ feature. They then input the amount to be paid.
WeChat is not the first to introduce online and offline retail payment options. Alibaba’s Alipay has been available in number of stores for some time, including KFC and Walmart.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the different ways Chinese consumers are using WeChat to make payments.
There are around 200 million Weixin (Chinese WeChat) and QQ accounts linked to a bank account. Some of those users could be the same person on both platforms, but it is still a lot of Chinese consumers purchasing goods through a messaging app.
What does it mean for brands? Chinese consumers are on WeChat, and are now paying for goods and services through WeChat Wallet.
They use it because it is simple, easy and the transfer of funds passes through a trustworthy platform.
Whether the business is an airline, a hospital, a restaurant or a bricks-and-mortar retail brand, having a presence on this platform has obvious marketing benefits.
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