Strategy + Planning

It’s Time We Chat about WeChat

Several retail executives at GELF LA 2016 (Sept 8th) will be sharing insights about how brands are connecting with online shoppers in Asia via messaging boards. Today we chat with Gabriel Grisham, Head of Growth @NihaoPay about how and why WeChat’s convenience and mobile commerce capabilities is fueling its hyper-growth.

Q1. The GELF community started hearing about chat commerce and WeChat early last year and now we’ve hearing more about contextual commerce’s buy buttons being the Next Big Thing.  Help us understand the difference and whether there is some overlap?

Tencent (owner of WeChat) has a very different approach than Alibaba when it comes to brands selling via their platform.  While Alibaba have their own B2C and C2C eCommerce platforms (Tmall and Taobao respectively), WeChat leverages its social app to help brands connect directly with consumers.

International brands can now create their own official accounts in WeChat to market themselves and their products, attract followers, provide customer service, as well as sell products.  While it is still a step or two short of buy buttons existing throughout the WeChat ecosystem, it does allow a customer to not only find and directly interact with the brand they are looking for, but find new brands shared by their circle of friends.

Q2. What’s the current state of “chat commerce?” Or if that’s already a dated term, how should executives at online retailers be using messaging platforms to connect with shoppers in Asia, and especially China?

Every brand that has international aspirations should have a WeChat account.  It is by far the easiest and most cost efficient method to reach and interact with Chinese consumers directly.  The most recent numbers released by Tencent regarding the WeChat platform should make the case, a few examples are below:

Q3. Can you help us better understand whether retailers and brands should think of WeChat as a marketing tool or a commerce platform or a little of both? 

While WeChat started out strictly as a communication tool for individuals, it has quickly spread to include brands and now a commerce platform.

Part of its appeal is that there is only one all-inclusive ecosystem.  An individual in China can chat with friends, pay for breakfast, hail a taxi, catch up on news, pay utility bills, and browse for products online all without ever leaving the application.  WeChat is the one platform to rule them all, and an essential part of almost every digitally connected individual in China on a daily basis.

Q4. From a payment perspective, how is WeChat reducing friction when it comes to finding products and buying them?  Is it too early to understand the ROI picture?

Wechat makes finding products is easy, but payments are something else as that is something that a consumer cannot solve on their own, the brand on the other side must accept Wechat Pay.  Within WeChat you can search by brand, and even if that brand doesn’t have an official account you can find others talking about that brand.

Buying products however is still in its early stages as few brands and websites accept WeChat Pay at checkout.  It’s an oversight by so many brands – or a missed opportunity really – so it is difficult to put a number to the ROI right now.

Q5. Is WeChat mostly a mobile commerce story – or is it equally relevant to desktop-based ecommerce? If so, how?

WeChat has a very good desktop site that is integrated with their mobile application.  A user of WeChat on a mobile device can quickly move to a desktop interface within seconds.

For eCommerce, WeChat’s solution is to take the checkout process from the desktop to the mobile phone to complete the payment.  From the eCommerce checkout page (think any .com that has a shopping cart), a unique QR code is generated at checkout which is then scanned by the customers WeChat mobile app where they then confirm their account (password / pin), select a payment method, and complete the purchase.

The UI / UX is very fast and extremely convenient.  However, few international brands have taken advantage of this payment solution to date leaving many consumers left with few options when it comes to actually buying the products they want with Wechat Pay.

Q6. How are WeChat Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) similar/different from influencers – like Mommy bloggers or extreme sports gearheads and like – that US online retailers have woven into their social marketing programs?

WeChat doesn’t really have a strong Key Opinion Leader section at the moment.  That is because in order to follow someone you have to be friends with them — much like a Facebook feed.

However, Weibo is the place for KOL engagement and these individuals aren’t very different from their US counterparts with one large caveat, the amount of followers that any KOL might have.

And KOL’s don’t have to be based in China to have a large Chinese following.  The newest platform for the KOL is the “live show,” and there are a number of apps that have KOLs with millions of followers, MeiPai (美拍), Yizhibo ( 一直播), and Huajiao Zhibo (花椒直播) are just a few.



Q7. How is WeChat different from Facebook? Are they converging – and if so, are they on a collision course?

There are a number of similarities between WeChat and Facebook, primarily around the original goal of connecting people.

However, WeChat’s functionality has quickly expanded so much that it far surpasses Facebook’s today.  This is the result of two primary drivers, competition among China’s tech titans for the Chinese consumer, and the extraordinarily rapid adoption of new technologies by Chinese consumers in general.

WeChat and Facebook could be on a collision course if one looks at it from a “share of screen time” statistic on any given mobile device.  But, at least for the time being, WeChat is so far out in front it appears Facebook is looking to use their playbook to expand its services here in the US.

Thanks Gabriel!

Gabriel will be joining the GELF community in Los Angeles next month at GELF LA and will sharing more insights about connecting and transacting with Chinese consumers.  And although we’re sure he will also share more information about NihaoPay, here is a quick introduction.

NihaoPay helps brands and retailers connect directly with Chinese consumers.  Its easy-to-integrated API adds the payment methods preferred by Chinese consumers to your checkout process, giving a brand’s flagship website the ability to tap into China’s $630 Billion USD eCommerce market.


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