All you need to know about WeChat mini-programs

2021/09/21 | 6 mins

The WeChat mini-program, an app-in-app functionality in the WeChat ecosystem, aims to change how we do business. Any technological advancement that benefits people and facilitates their seamless integration is always welcome.

Today, even United States tech giants are inspired by Chinese platforms and their innovation, which has been the key reason Chinese tech companies have been leading the global competition for years. Baidu and Taobao are some examples of how these companies are rapidly chasing global giants like Google. Additionally, China has developed some of the best internet browsers in recent years.

For example, App Clips, Apple’s latest initiative, is similar to the WeChat mini-program and WhatsApp also seems to draw from WeChat for its features and functionalities.

Now global businesses are developing mini-programs of their own, as it is highly advantageous to both service providers and end-users alike. However, having multiple apps is difficult for businesses and service providers to maintain as it requires additional development and other costs. On the consumer end, they need to switch between different apps to gain access to different services, which is inconvenient and time-consuming. Through this article, you will get to know how convenient the WeChat mini-program is and why businesses worldwide are eager to develop mini-programs of their own.

What are WeChat mini-programs?

If you go through your smartphone apps, you will find several apps you only used a few times. Unfortunately, these rarely used apps eat up memory in your phone. Meanwhile, the updates keep working in the background, slowing down your phone’s processing power. And there is always a risk of data theft. So, would it not be beneficial to use these apps whenever required without downloading them? WeChat mini-program allows this. Imagine the time savings and convenience. These accounts could differ based on the services offered and purpose (e.g., e-commerce transactions or content sharing), and message frequency (e.g., daily, or weekly).

Technical aspects - how it works

WeChat developer Tencent’s vision encompasses four critical pillars to connect the real world by connecting:

  • People to people,
  • People to services,
  • People to business, and
  • People to objects

WeChat allows third-party organizations to develop mini-programs or mini-applications built within the WeChat ecosystem. In addition, they come with advanced features that can run within the app.

  • You do not have to download or install these apps,
  • You can search and open the app to use it,
  • Once you use the app, you can conveniently move ahead, and
  • You do not have to install multiple apps on your Smartphone.

For example, you visit a supermarket and wish to purchase a specific product, but find the bill payment line long and uninviting. WeChat mini-programs allow you to scan the product-specific QR code, select the product, make the payment, and have it delivered to your home.

WeChat mini-program ecosystem

Business aspects - how it is useful

Businesses can find WeChat mini-programs useful as it enables them to evolve from the Online-to-Offline (O2O) to the Online-Merged-with-Offline (OMO) mode. While O2O considers online and offline markets as separate entities, WeChat mini-programs serve as the technological bridge between the two. Thus, the customer has a holistic shopping experience. Businesses can benefit from WeChat mini-programs’ inherent qualities in the following manner.

Reducing developmental costs
Engaging with customers through traditional e-commerce platforms requires businesses to pay a usage fee between 8% to 20% of the sale amount. On the other hand, WeChat mini-programs do not charge any fees. Hence, it enables businesses to retain the entire revenue and even offers incentives to attract potential customers.

Attracting potential customers
WeChat mini-programs enable brands to advertise their products through Live Stream using VR movies, 3D models, and AR filters. In addition, customers can purchase specific products while streaming online. Thus, while enhancing consumer experiences and improving sales figures, it attracts potential customers.

Improving user experience
WeChat mini-programs offer enriched UX features and do not require customers to download or install apps for performing one-off transactions. This is unlike those apps that require a download even for one-time transactions, occupy valuable space in your smartphone's memory, and creates a potential entry point for malicious actors. It also offers a channel for cybercriminals to hack into their smartphones and steal data. WeChat mini-programs allow you seamless interaction and not only minimize these risks, but also improves user experience.

Increasing user loyalty
Generally, websites and mobile apps use SMS and push notifications to engage with customers. However, WeChat mini-programs provide better service by reminding users of payments, orders, and delivery through the WeChat notification service. Besides cost savings, it engages the users proactively as they are already on the platform. Thus, it enhances user loyalty.

Diversifying the business marketing
Businesses can diversify their marketing strategies by using data monitoring tools similar to Google Analytics. It helps brands track and analyze user activity and provides information about user preferences.

Creating a Win-win situation for service providers and users alike
The most significant benefit of the WeChat mini-program is that it is beneficial to service providers and users alike. As it can connect with thousands of apps, the user is spared the trouble of jumping from one app to another. In addition, service providers benefit because it saves them the cost of app development, maintenance, and promotion. WeChat mini-programs do not incur any of these additional costs.

Maintaining a comprehensive platform with enhanced user experience
The WeChat mini-program is an all-in-one program that does not require users to download and install specific apps rarely used. Users can directly use the WeChat platform and perform their actions. It enables brands to engage with potential and existing customers better and thus, improves user experience. By analyzing customer preferences using WeChat mini-programs’ data monitoring tools, brands gain valuable insights into customer preferences, helping them resonate with customers better.

The graph above indicates the rising popularity of WeChat. While there were 500 million users in 2014, the monthly active users touched 1.20 billion in June 2020.

At the same time, the number of WeChat mini-programs also increased substantially from 0.58 million in 2017 to 3.2 million in 2020 (data source: daxueconsulting). As a result, the user base has now reached more than 840 million people.

Here are the top five most popular WeChat mini-programs in 2021:

  • Qunar (live streaming and e-commerce): Qunar is China’s top online travel agency, offering a centralized portal for booking travel tickets and hotel accommodation.
  • Palace Museum (gaming): Palace Museum collaborated with Tencent Gaming to create some of the most interactive games. Besides educating players on traditional Chinese architecture, it is sharable on its users’ WeChat feed.
  • Starbucks - WeChat Pay and social gifting: You can send gift cards with customized messages to friends and loved ones directly using WeChat mini-programs.
  • Tencent Translator (translation): While Google Translate is renowned worldwide, the Chinese prefer to use Tencent Translator as its mini-program covers 13 languages. In addition, it also translates from images. Thus, users can use Tencent Translator to read non-Chinese languages.
  • Legoland (interactive maps): Legoland mini-program tracks a visitor’s real-time location and lets them browse for various services. Besides, users can also snap a fun geolocated photo.

WeChat mini-programs - the users

How to find the WeChat mini-programs?

While you can expect Generation Z users to embrace technology faster than other groups, it is surprising that the silver generation is also a part of the WeChat mini-program active userbase in China. Together, they are set to become the backbone of China’s next consumption group. Besides, e-commerce platforms like Alibaba and internet service providers like Baidu are also active users of WeChat mini-programs.

Users like to use WeChat mini-programs primarily because it does not warrant downloading and installing different apps. You can use any supported app directly through WeChat. It becomes handy because it enables you to get rid of the apps that you rarely use.

While using WeChat mini-programs is convenient, it is still in the developmental stage. Though there are multiple success examples and more people adopting WeChat mini-programs, it will take time to become the preferred choice.

Conclusion - why WeChat mini-programs are popular

Just as the Western world has Facebook and Twitter, WeChat is China’s most popular social media platform. With more people starting to use WeChat mini-programs (6 out of 10 WeChat users use mini-programs), it is gradually gaining ground, and you can witness it becoming highly popular and penetrating even more segments of the user base in the near future. However, improving user experience will be the key to ensuring maximum user loyalty.

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