What is WeChat? If you’re asking yourself that question – buckle up! China Ready Now is here to help, with an introduction on this ubiquitous app. For any tourism or hospitality operator who wants to target Chinese consumers, understanding WeChat will be crucial to your business, and your ability to connect with Chinese tourists.
WeChat was developed by Tencent (one of China’s big three internet companies) and was released to the public in January 2011. The app grew quickly, acquiring 100 million users in just 14 months (by comparison, Facebook took 3 years to reach that milestone). Today, there are over 762 million monthly active users and it is the favourite app for 46% of internet users in China. [UPDATE August 2017: There are now 963 million people actively using WeChat.]
It is not a stretch to say that WeChat has become an ingrained part of people’s lives in China – over 60% of users open the app at least 10 times a day. The average Chinese mobile internet user spends 70 minutes a day on WeChat!1 That compares closely with Australians’ use of Facebook and Instagram.2 For a great read on how ingrained using WeChat is in China, the recent Bloomberg article “Life in the People’s Republic of WeChat” is worth your attention, as is the timeline below.
Layers of WeChat
WeChat is often described as a Swiss army knife super app as it can do almost everything. For instance, in China you can order a taxi, buy movie tickets, play games, check-in for flights, pay your bills, listen to music, read the news, shop for clothes or even meet nearby strangers all through the app. Despite all these features, at its core, WeChat is still a messaging app and its primary function is to communicate between friends and family.
Perhaps it is easier then to consider WeChat as a mobile ecosystem, with 4 different layers:
- Messaging layer: Within the basic messaging layer of the app, users can send text messages, group messages, leave voice messages, share photos and videos, share their location, exchange contact cards and more.
- Social layer: WeChat also allows users to post photos and statuses, called Moments. All your friends’ Moments are displayed in a separate tab of the app in chronological order. This is like a streamlined version of Facebook’s timeline.
- Media layer: This is where businesses can generate content and push that out to end users via official accounts. Businesses can choose one of 2 types of official accounts, either a subscription account or a service account.
- Connectivity layer: Businesses that choose to set up an official service account have access to WeChat’s advanced platform features, which means greater customisation – basically you can create an app within an app, and connect users with other websites, software and hardware.
How can tourism and hospitality operators take advantage of WeChat?
All tourism and hospitality businesses that want to target Chinese customers should have a presence on WeChat, whether it be through a personal account or an official account – either subscription or service. Personal accounts are a great first step for small and medium sized businesses to get familiar with WeChat and its various features. And WeChat is available in English – download here for iPhone or here for Android devices. Then add me as your first contact and say hi – my username is “wen_hai_lin_”.
For businesses that are ready to take the next step, choosing whether to go down the subscription account path or the service account path depends on what your marketing goals are. Subscription accounts are ideal for businesses that mainly want to use WeChat to publish content and regularly send information to users.
Service accounts, on the other hand, are more suited to businesses that want to offer advanced features through WeChat, such as the ability to accept mobile payments and have interactive menus within the app. For some interesting examples of how hotels, airlines and online travel agencies are using service accounts on WeChat, have a read of this article.
For more information on the differences between subscription and service accounts, see this article.
WeChat as a payment platform
In China’s mobile payment space, Tencent’s competitor Alibaba leads the way, with its Alipay platform holding approximately 50% of a market worth ¥9.3 trillion (approx A$1.8 trillion) in 2015. WeChat’s payment platform, WeChat Pay, by comparison, has only about 10% of the market.3 However, WeChat Pay’s share is increasing and there are now over 200 million users who have linked their bank accounts to the app.
WeChat is also extremely popular among businesses in China, and there are now more than 10 million official accounts opened by businesses. A whopping 53% of SMEs in China report making earnings directly through WeChat or a linked interface. Even your average street-side food stall in China accepts WeChat Pay now!
The average WeChat Pay user makes an estimated 54 transactions a month through the system. By comparison, Australians make less than half that number of transactions on our debit and credit cards each month, with an average of just 22 transactions.4
Over 50% of WeChat Pay users are aged between 16 and 29 and live in Tier 1 and 2 cities.5 This millennial demographic will be a dominant force in Chinese outbound travel in the coming years, so now is a great time to get your WeChat account set up and start learning how to make the most of China’s favourite app.
At the very least, all tourism and hospitality operators interested in targeting Chinese tourists should have a personal WeChat account set up, and include the QR (“quick response”) code on your business card, out the front of your store/hotel/restaurant and on your website. This will allow Chinese tourists to get in touch with you directly, and share your contact details with their friends and family (remember, word of mouth still reigns supreme among Chinese consumers). Setting up your WeChat account is easy, and the app is available on all smartphones. And if you start getting messages in Chinese, you can easily click on the message and get it instantly translated!
If you’re ready to get started with WeChat, China Ready Now is here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation and advice on how you can use WeChat to improve your ability to connect with Chinese tourists.
- For a full list of features and how to use them, WeChat has prepared this helpful guide.
- When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China
- Life in the People’s Republic of WeChat
- WeChat: the difference between subscription and service brand accounts
- 10 WeChat Travel industry case studies
- Internet Trends 2016 Report, KPCB, 1 June 2016.
- “These incredible stats show exactly how huge Facebook is in Australia”, Business Insider, 8 April 2015.
- Accessing China’s Third Party Mobile Payments Market: A Comparison of WeChat and Alipay, China Briefing, 3 June 2016.
- Australian Payments Clearing Association statistics, 2015.
- Younger Adults Make Almost All Mobile Payments in China, eMarketer, 16 June 2016.