WeChat: The most important app in China

WeChat is China’s most used app, and it’s time for Australian businesses to use it too. WeChat was launched in early 2011, but by 2013, WeChat had garnered 200 million users. Today, the app has over 700 million monthly active users. Despite the lack of success in growing its audience outside of their homeland, WeChat continues to thrive in China and is set to hit the 1 billion mark soon. This is a feat that took Facebook 8 years to achieve, and WeChat is forecasted to do it 2 years faster.

While WeChat’s growth is incredibly impressive, the vast majority of their users are still located in China, with 93% of them residing in China’s tier 1 cities. The saturation of their domestic market is the main driver behind their push into international territory. Unfortunately, their attempts at expanding beyond their homeland have been futile. But for companies based in Australia, WeChat may be the fastest and best solution to reach just about anyone in the world’s most populated country.

So what do people use WeChat for? Well, everything. WeChat, or Wēixìn in Chinese, literally means micro-message. It started as an instant messaging app similar to WhatsApp and Facebook’s Messenger. Not long after, it evolved to offer group chat, voice chat, video chat and file sharing capabilities on the app.

But today, WeChat has become much more than a way for Chinese citizens to connect; it’s an app that can do almost anything. People can make doctor’s appointments, pay the practice, receive and pay for their prescriptions all on WeChat. They can book and pay for flights and hotels, check in for their flights, check into and out of their accommodation, book and pay for taxis, order and pay for food (both in restaurants and online), buy clothes, buy groceries and even compare the prices of those groceries. People can buy public transport tickets, track deliveries, top up their mobile phone account, and even verify the identity of the person picking up their child from daycare. In China, WeChat is the only app you’d ever need.

Many of these features have allowed WeChat to differentiate themselves from their American counterparts. Central to this has been their ability to get users to use their payment method, WeChat Pay. Roughly a third of all users now use WeChat Pay, a feature not dissimilar to Apple Pay, in which users add their debit or credit card information to the app’s wallet. While Apple has only been able to sign up a few banks to use the service following pushback from three of the big four banks here in Australia, WeChat has allowed users to survive cash-free for years. Using this feature, the cashless (and cardless) economy is a reality for users in China, as they can pay bills for goods and services both online and offline, all with WeChat Pay.

Since opening up their platform to software developers, many new and innovative ways of interacting with WeChat have emerged and gone mainstream. As western companies look to emulate WeChat’s success, they will continue to thrive by tending to its users needs. In our next series, WeChat for Australian Companies and Brands, we will talk about how businesses outside of China can set up an account on the platform and reap the benefits of this ever-growing app.