In 2023, WeChat mini-programs are still a really hot topic in the e-Commerce ecosystem in China. WeChat reaches over 1 million mini-programs, half the size of the Apple Store. With more than 1.26 billion users in China in 2023, WeChat is still the main social media to consider when doing e-commerce.
In this blog post, we will explain to you the phenomenon of WeChat eCommerce mini-programs and check the best ways how to develop mini-programs so that they will be most useful for online shopping.
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What are WeChat mini-programs?
WeChat mini-programs are actually like apps that are already included in the Wechat app. It is like a « subprogram » in the WeChat ecosystem. It is the lighter version of a regular APP. These programs offer many services.
The main advantage, of course, is the convenience as they are already within WeChat, so there is no need to install another app to open the program. And because it is a « mini » program it does not require a lot of storage space.
Among the various types of mini-programs, the most frequent are :
- E-commerce mini-programs (the most interesting for marketers)
- Wechat mini-games
- Lucky draws
- H5 brochures
WeChat’s mini-program feature in the philosophy of the company is based on the desire to make Wechat even more practical for its hundreds of millions of users. It makes sure all users’ apps and cravings are but one click away. It is also a bargain for e-commerce business marketers who see it as one more way to get closer to their target market.
The strategy of simplifying target users’ life is also very clever because it allows the WeChat messaging app to monopolize the user within the WeChat ecosystem rather than download other applications. This is all used to generate more and more traffic and create more of a monopoly for the parent company, Tencent.
Mini Program VS your own app
The main difference between a classic application and a Wechat mini-program in mini-app is based primarily on the instantaneous aspect of the application and its simplicity compared to an application that will take longer to load to display a more complex page.
Wechat stores are working remarkably well. Chinese consumers have already adopted the changes brought by the innovations of these programs due to the eCommerce market being already well established in China and in particular on Wechat, their native app. Now it’s also possible to sell cross-border products, which is also a game changer for the WeChat store ecosystem.
The WeChat mini-programs are decentralized, meaning that there is no space for searching all the mini-programs in the Chinese market. Mini-program users can use the WeChat search bar, and the user can receive a recommendation from WeChat to find Wechat mini-programs based on their location (searching for nearby mini-program options) but they can not find them by approximative research (by theme or keyword for example).
Wechat mini-programs can also be shared between WeChat friends in the app.
Why develop a mini-program for your brand?
Mini-program development provides a new way for businesses to contact existing Chinese consumers and attract new users and offer them a new experience within Wechat. They are easier to access and less constraining. The possibility of being able to invest more cheaply in mini-apps allowing customers to discover a service or product is very attractive.
Opportunity to test your offer before entering other e-commerce platforms
It is indeed a good idea for companies wishing to “test” their offer before going for the creation and implementation of an application in its own right with advanced features and more developer tools. Especially for startups whose budgets are often tight on project initiation.
Notably, when considering design for classic apps, it is necessary to adapt one app according to the operating system (IOS or Android) whereas, with this development in WeChat mini-programs, it is automatically adapted to different types of OS.
However, these mini-programs can also be used by multinationals already well-established to create easy access to their platform for customers reluctant to install independent native apps.
WeChat mini-programs are very user-friendly
In addition, since the application is managed by Wechat, it is faster to navigate from one page to another and is often more fluid than an independent app. This is a real advantage for companies that optimize the time Wechat users spend on their mobile apps.
This is all the more true as the competition in e-commerce continues to be strong. Fluid web apps allow one to keep the attention of the customer rather than guide him to a competitor with a slow application with a laborious load.
Since mini-programs are integrated within the WeChat platform, it is easier for the program to access Wechat followers’ data which is interesting in terms of data, which also improves the company’s targeting capabilities and the analysis of actions. But this also optimizes the experience for the customer (easy access to payment, for example, mini-games, membership loyalty program options, flash sales, or discount vouchers).
Good marketing tool for other apps and official accounts
With a successful mini-program, customers will also be more inclined to download the full independent app (if it exists) to have access to the full experience and -why not- have access to special offers on this platform.
In addition, it leaves a feeling of great freedom to the customer, especially for services that he doesn’t need frequently enough to download the full app.
For example, regarding JD.com, which specializes in electronic product e-commerce, app users who need a hairdryer, do not necessarily want to download the application for a single need, so the mini-program can meet this need without compelling them to install an app (this is valid for other areas: travel, food delivery, taxi order, etc.). This allows you to perform a task easily and quickly, with a faster loading speed.
Mini-programs are easily shareable
Thanks to the fact, that those mini apps and their new features are built-in WeChat framework, they are very shareable, which is an amazing feature for all marketers trying to reach out to existing and new customers.
Wechat mini-program can be shared on your WeChat account or other WeChat Official accounts, but also on WeChat Moments, in private messages, or WeChat groups. You can feature mini-games on your Wechat Official account, inviting people to join in one of your WeChat articles.
It’s especially useful for shops that want to display their products on their WeChat Official account and in live streams about products held by Chinese influencers, where you can link specific product pages to the stream, which can be later opened with just one click on the users’ phone.
Mini-programs are the new loyalty program
In terms of strategy, the WeChat mini-program is very practical and efficient on O2O (Online to Offline) simply by setting up loyalty programs aka “E-Loyalty”. Wechat e-commerce can serve as an entry point to an external app, highlighting the services of this application: the tracking of an order, special offers, and obtaining invoices…).
You can also invite your customers to WeChat mini-games, offering coupons and special deals which they can later use offline.
The mini-programs can serve as a test for both small businesses and even larger enterprises. Indeed the development of these programs is less expensive and less slow, it is much easier to change an aspect of a site or to offer a new service, all without the client needing to download an update of the mini-program.
Some companies have even invested in the development of several mini-programs in Mainland China to test different functions on their mini-program users.
A strong example of mini-program success is McDonald’s which has released a specialized program for kids, a loyalty card program, a restaurant order program without queuing, and a home delivery program, all within the WeChat native app. By offering lifestyle services to app users, Mcdonald’s makes it easier than ever to purchase its products.
While mini-programs bring many benefits to businesses, they are also greatly beneficial to customers who can benefit from new ways of consuming, such as group shopping and group conversations, no matter if they live in bigger or smaller cities.
What are the drawbacks of WeChat mini-programs?
The first disadvantage of these programs is the storage capacity of the mini-app on Wechat (only two megabytes of data). This drastically reduces the design capabilities of the developers of these programs. This requires companies to compromise on the design and composition of apps which can potentially affect the customer experience.
The payment on WeChat mini-programs is easy but not convenient for everyone
Only WeChat Pay is available to pay for purchases, which can sometimes be inconvenient for Alipay or even credit card daily active users. It is necessary to have an ICP License to be able to create a mini-program, which can be a disadvantage for small companies/startups or foreigners without a Chinese ID card.
Validation of the mini-programs by Tencent is mandatory, and it goes the same for any modification made after the first validation. In addition, the mini-program is subject to any modification that Tencent opened to apply at any time.
What about mini-programs performance?
After a slow start, WeChat programs boomed in the first months of 2018, mostly thanks to the explosion of addictive video mini-game programs. Today, WeChat has more than a million mini-programs (which equals half of the Apple Store), and 200 million DAUs, and 63% of WeChat users have used a mini-program at least once.
Additionally, users of mini-programs have gained confidence in the platform and feel safer now making their purchases on these small programs. In the first half of 2018, 95% of Chinese e-commerce companies created a mini-program for their business on WeChat (including JD, Pinduoduo, Mogujie, etc.).
Thanks to this boom, investments have started to climb – mainly in e-commerce and service programs. The growth of the business of companies and Key Opinion Leaders through its mini-programs was very quickly the source of attraction for new investors and mini-program users.
Indeed, due to this fad, nearly 85% of the investments made on WeChat mini-programs were made on the first investment cycle with significant sums for a release of a brand new service that has never been tested before (more than 50% of the investments exceeded the amount of 10 million RMB and 25% were between 1 and 10 million RMB).
Investors have mainly been involved in the development of Chinese unicorns, such as IDG Capital, which was one of the first investors in e-commerce platforms such as Wish and Zhen Fund and among the first investors for the “Little Red Book” application (Xiao Hong Shu).
The industry’s behemoths have been shyer in their investment initiatives, with the obvious exception of Tencent getting involved with the project.
WeChat e-commerce sum up
WeChat’s mini-programs have received a spectacular welcome, and have performed impressively over the first few years of their existence. Investments are flourishing and through maturation, and they promise to be able to develop even more useful and convenient features to optimize customer experiences on the programs. Without a doubt, they will contribute to forming the e-commerce digital experience of China tomorrow.
Trust a reliable WeChat marketing agency in China
The creation and implementation of a digital strategy based on WeChat’s mini-programs can boost the visibility of your company in China. It is important to think about what kind of role you want to give to the platform: advertising? E-shop? Exclusive content? Or do you want to play on the presence of KOL to promote your product/services? We can help you with all of the above services, contact us!
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Wechat Mini-Program – Frequently Asked Questions
How does a WeChat mini-program work?
WeChat Mini Programs are mini-applications that can be accessed through the WeChat ecosystem without leaving it. There is a variety of ways in which these programs could be found and used, ranging from direct searches to QR codes or links on an official account for more information about what they offer!
How much does it Cost to Create a WeChat Mini-Program?
Creating a WeChat Mini Program costs between 1,000 and 20 thousand dollars. The price will depend on what functionalities you are looking for.