What is a WeChat mini-program and how can I use it to sell to China?
Updated: Jan 16, 2019
WeChat mini-programs are mini-apps within WeChat.
Some key characteristics:
They can be easily searched and accessible by WeChat users.
They are limited to two megabytes per page and load quickly.
Brands and retailers can set up small e-commerce mini-program stores
They can be equipped with cross-border WeChat Pay for cross-border e-commerce transactions.
For many brands, their Wechat mini-program stores act as their official store in China.
This is because China is a mobile-first internet market and many Chinese internet users do not regularly use desktop or laptop computers. This is also why e-mail is less commonly used in China (people prefer instant messaging via QQ/WeChat).
Key Advantages of Mini-Program E-Commerce Stores
They can more easily be shared amongst users. The shared card is larger and more visual with a banner that pops up in the chat window
Mini-program stores have more room for attractive, enticing marketing materials and campaigns, compared to a store on Tmall or JD
You have more options for creative marketing campaigns. You can launch social marketing campaigns that WeChat users can share with one another, such as group buying, coupon sharing, e-commerce games, raffles, and more.
However, many brands and retailers use WeChat official accounts to push content to users, and use mini-program stores to sell.
WeChat Official Account = Marketing WeChat Mini-Program = Selling
What are the drawbacks to WeChat mini-program stores?
The main problem with mini-program marketing is that they cannot send out push notifications when a new piece of content, product, or marketing campaign is released.
Mini-programs also cannot be shared on users’ WeChat moments, which limits their ability to go viral.
These two drawbacks severely limit mini-programs’ ability to draw user traffic.
What brands and retailers have to do is leverage the use of WeChat official accounts as a marketing tool. Official accounts are designed to push content. They can send notifications and also link to mini-programs.
Working with influencers can also help, as many of them have their own official accounts that can link to other mini-programs.
How do I drive traffic to my WeChat mini-program store?
Unfortunately, there is no Facebook equivalent in terms of basic advertising for small & medium businesses on WeChat. The barriers to entry are much higher as WeChat’s advertising options are less developed and less targeted.
Additionally, since WeChat is a closed network, users cannot see the news feeds of users they are not connected with and vice versa. This means that the network is more fragmented and users can only see content from users they are connected with and official accounts they are following.
What this means is that brands need to create highly compelling, useful content that will encourage users to share amongst themselves. Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo was able to reach 300 million users within three years by providing steep group discounts on every day goods, targeting less affluent customers in smaller Chinese cities and encouraging them to share such discounts with friends and family.
Brands and retailers usually drive traffic through 1. content marketing on WeChat official accounts, Weibo, Little Red Book, 2. KOL/influencer marketing, and 3. devising unique, innovative marketing campaigns that may include promotions such as group-buying, coupon-sharing, loyalty member awards, raffles, etc. Some even go as far as to design interactive games.
Why should I set up a WeChat mini-program store over a full-blown e-commerce website or marketplaces such as Tmall or JD.com?
Many brands nowadays treat their WeChat mini-program stores as their official mobile stores. China is a mobile-first market and many internet users do not use desktop/laptop computers nor shop on standalone e-commerce sites designed for desktop users. Mini-programs are made for mobile in that they are limited to two megabytes of data per page, load quickly, and can be easily accessed through the WeChat interface.
The benefits of mini-programs over marketplaces are that the costs are lower and brands have more control over their store - i.e. they don't need to pay high commissions and they can decide what kind of content, banners, and promotions to put on the store.
On marketplace platforms where there are tens of thousands of brands, there is much more limited space to come up with creative marketing campaigns.
Lastly, marketplaces are getting more and more difficult to get on. Generally speaking you need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to qualify and many marketplaces are only taking brands from certain categories. Most small and emerging brands do not qualify for large marketplace platforms.
The benefits of mini-programs over a standalone site are 1. the costs are lower to set up, 2. there is less maintenance required with regards to IT, design, and payments, and 3. you can leverage WeChat's billion-plus user base to help drive traffic and brand awareness. Brands often devise innovative social commerce and marketing campaigns on mini-programs that can go viral.
1. Many brands are starting to use WeChat mini-programs to sell to Chinese customers. Pinduoduo is one example of an e-commerce retailer that has used mini-programs and social commerce tactics to grow its sales.
2. It is still difficult to drive traffic to a WeChat mini-program store. Brands and retailers should use WeChat official accounts for marketing purposes and devise unique marketing campaigns to drive traffic. Many use KOLs/influencers to raise brand awareness.
3. Mini-program stores are a good low-cost option for smaller brands and retailers who can't afford to get on a large marketplace platform or set up their own e-commerce site. There is less work that the brand needs to do and WeChat already has a user base of over one billion people.