The Increasing Influence of WeChat Mini-Programs

The Increasing Influence of WeChat Mini-Programs

WeChat’s mini-programs burst into the scene in 2017. As of January 2018, there are already more than 580,000 WeChat mini-programs, compared to 500,000 mobile apps that Apple’s app store published from 2008 to 2012. 

WeChat mini-programs also have an estimated 170 million active users every day and 50% of them are from first- and second-tier Chinese cities. But 170 million users out of a billion WeChat users monthly is just 17%. These figures show that WeChat mini-programs still have a long way to go. Of these users, 50% use these mini-programs less than 3 times weekly, about 20% use them 3 – 5 times weekly while less than 10% use them 5 – 10 times weekly. What’s also surprising is that up to 33% of WeChat users have not even heard of mini-programs.

Much like apps, except that there’s no need for you to install or uninstall them,WeChat mini-programs will not take up any storage space on your phone. Essentially built within WeChat, these mini-programs are usually very fast when loading and to launch them, you have to scan QR codes or input the names of the programs on WeChat.

Said BusinessInsider, having a chat app that hosts mini-app-like experiences could give WeChat a good advantage over Apple and Google. Let’s take a look at why this is so. 

Google Play Store – With Google Play store blocked in China, there’s a good demand for a centralized app market for Android users, which WeChat could fill. With more than 400 app stores, China’s app market is a fragmented one, and Tencent’s move to bundle apps together within WeChat makes it one of the most accessible app stores in China.

iOS App Store – Though Apple’s app store is China’s leading mobile app store by downloads with more than 500 million app downloads per month, it could witness a fall in downloads if WeChat mini-programs continue to attract more users and businesses. As WeChat converts to become a central app store, users may shift to downloading apps across both Android and iOS, which is a bad sign for Apple as China is its key growth market.

WeChat mini-programs are providing shop owners with new channels of selling and promoting their products with advanced features such as e-commerce, group-buying deals, promotion coupons or interactive contests. For instance, Pinduoduo, backed by Tencent, has its entire e-commerce platform embedded within WeChat. It actually makes use of each user’s extensive social network by offering discounts for  group purchases. A box of chocolate might cost US$6 if only you buy it, but the price will fall to US$4 if you purchase it together with friends.

Another e-commerce site Meili United Group, that also has Tencent as an investor and develops from the merger of fashion e-commerce startups Meilishuo and Mogujie in 2016, has also attracted 20 million new customers since its WeChat mini-program launch. WeChat mini-programs can also be used offline such as paying for groceries, food delivery or using it to unlock a shared bicycle.

Some international brands that have leveraged on WeChat mini-programs to kickstart their campaigns include McDonald’s, KFC, Coach and Tesla. WeChat mini-programs have also been gaining popularity among certain segments of the market, especially among influencers or KOLs in China because through WeChat mini-programs, influencers can now embed their stores directly within their articles inside their WeChat subscription accounts. This increases their e-commerce conversion rates drastically.

Despite such popularity, these mini-programs also have their faults. On the technical side, they have to be developed using Tencent’s specific JavaScript framework – wxml instead of the usual html and css, with all updates to be submitted to Tencent. These mini-programs also cannot be used to send out push notifications or shared on users’ WeChat moments.

However, WeChat is said to be testing a new feature to improve these mini-programs’ visibility based on relevant searches, according to a report by TechNode. This new feature means that when a user searches from within the app, WeChat will give recommendations of items within relevant mini-programs. For instance, if a user searches for “courier”, WeChat will provide them with “call a courier”,”my past packages”,”track packages” and so on, with each one linking to related WeChat mini-programs. If successful, this function just might increase WeChat users’ time spent on the app.

Development of a WeChat mini-program isn’t too expensive as there are already many developers that are fluent in the language to help you with it. So does it make sense for you to develop one? I would think that would entirely depend on your objective, timeline, budget and use case. For some inspiration and ideas, here are some sample WeChat mini-programs that you can check out.

Sample WeChat Mini-Programs

Big Detective Game 

This is a mini-program that sits on various detective cases. Deriving from big data, it provides everyone with crime cases that you need to solve, testing your logic and analytical abilities.

Pingduoduo 

As mentioned above, Tencent-backed Pingduoduo is a Shanghai e-commerce company that let people shop together online and earn group discounts. For example, shoppers will put in a keyword and then pick out what they want after looking through options or reviews. It leverages on people’s social media network such that you can share ideas about what you like, get feedback from those that you trust and then if you make purchases together, you enjoy a good discount.

Natural Sounds

This WeChat mini-program provides you with natural sounds such as the wind, rain, thunder, sounds of the waves, fire burning, birds chirping as well as white noise. It aims to increase concentration, focus or help you sleep more easily.

Travelling Cow (途牛旅游)

This mini-program provides travellers with information about destinations, flights, air tickets, hotels, trains, places of attractions, tour groups, and all other services related to travel and tourism. You can book all sorts of tickets directly from this mini-program.

W3CSchool

W3CSchool is a mini-program that teaches users all kinds of popular programming languages and codes, such as HTML, PHP, Java, CSS and Python.

Portrait Man (像素君)

Pixelated portraits that you can make of yourself, your family or your friends and share it around! Fun drawing WeChat mini-program that is also simple to use.

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