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What’s next for WeChat in 2018?

WeChat is commonly referred to as China’s ‘app for everything’. 

Combining instant messaging, social networking, online shopping,mobile payments and more – there’s a reason why 902m people are logged in on adaily basis. 

For brands, it hasresulted in a huge opportunity to communicate directly with consumers, not justadvertise to them. By creating their own mini sites within the app, brandsranging from Burberry to Uniqlo have been able to successfully engage WeChat’secommerce-hungry audience.

Meanwhile, WePay – the app’s payment system – has ensured usersremain ever-more loyal. With the equivalent of $1.2 trillion being sent in2016, the feature has revolutionised the way Chinese consumers pay. When youadd in other features like low-cost calls, mini programs (apps that do not haveto be downloaded separately), and the social ‘moments’ – it’s clear whyconsumers might not feel the need to look elsewhere.

So, how is WeChat planning on keeping its 900m strong user basehappy? Here’s a run-down of some of the newest features on the app, plusindication of where it might be heading in the near future. 

You can also read more about the topic in Econsultancy’s Understanding WeChat report.

IntegratedAR

We’ve already seen Tencent (owner of WeChat) setting its sightson the world of virtual and augmented reality, with streamed VR concerts andinvestment in the development of headsets. 

More recently, however, it announced a new intention to bringthis technology into WeChat with QAR - an open AR platform for third-partydevelopers.  

There’ll be no headsets involved, as it is aiming to makedetailed objects look realistic on smartphones through 3D rendering. It’s alsobeen reported that Tencent is developing simultaneous localisation and mapping(SLAM) technology, which will be able to calculate the position of virtualobjects relative to their environment.

Perhaps this new investment is a reaction to WeChat’s mobilepayments rival, Alibaba, bringing an AR-element to itslast hongbao campaign (the tradition of giving cash in red envelopes tocelebrate the Lunar New Year). In the same fashion as Pokémon Go, it allowedusers to collect virtual red envelopes left in various real-lifelocations. 

However, while Tencent did launch a similar hongbao promotion onits QQ Messenger service, WeChat still won the battle againstAlibaba in terms of red envelopes sent. If AR is added into the mix in future,it’s easy to see how WeChat might further increase its domination of thispopular event – and draw in even more users with the promise of more interactivein-app technology.

(Imagevia Digital Strategy Consulting)

Internationalexpansion?

Previously, WeChat’s attempts to expand to other markets haveproved less successful than hoped. With widespread adoption of Facebook Messengerand Whatsapp in countries including the US, South Africa, Argentina and Italy –WeChat’s late entry into the market has somewhat hindered its progress. 

Similarly, with a lack of localisation and the absence of manyintegrated features that make it so popular in China, it has failed to catchthe imagination of consumers. 

Nevertheless, WebChat is ploughing on, recently changing itsglobalisation strategy to focus on forming new partnerships with businessesrather than acquiring new users. What’s more, it is hoping to drive interest bypartnering with firms to allow WeChat Pay in other markets. 

Most significantly perhaps, it has rolled out its full WeChatecosystem in Malaysia, meaning locals can link their bank accounts to WeChatPay. With previous limitations on localised services, this could generategreater usage of other features within the app including booking appointments,taxis and so on, perhaps then leading to greater expansion elsewhere. It alsomeans that Chinese travellers can avoid cash payments, and if this isreplicated in other markets, will potentially make the app moretravel-friendly.

(Imagevia Says.com)

Findingmini programs nearby

Since January last year, mini programs (or embedded apps) haveallowed brands from a variety of industries to reach consumers more easily.Without the need to download a separate app, mini programs are faster and lessdata-heavy, allowing users to do everything from order food to translatelanguage without ever leaving WeChat. 

Recently, Tencent introduced a new feature to allow for thebidding of ad space in the ‘Mini Programs Nearby’ list. Essentially, this meansthat users are provided with a list of mini programs based on their location,age, gender, and other metrics.

For ecommerce brands, the opportunity to deliver relevant andpersonalised communication is an undoubtedly enticing prospect – as is thechance to connect users with hyper-local offline experiences. Mini programs aredesigned to be unobtrusive, as they only appear when the service in question isrequired. For example, bike sharing brand Mobike allows users to rent a bike(via the mini program) by scanning a QR code at a pick-up point.

Instead of having to download an existing app, it means thatusers can naturally discover and interact with brands in real-time.

(Imagevia China Channel)

DigitalID 

Finally, WeChat has also launched a new pilot program for adigital ID, initially rolled out in the Nansha district in Guangzhou beforeexpanding elsewhere. It means that citizens will be able to link their nationalidentity to WeChat via facial recognition, which users can then display ontheir smartphones. 

With ID cards typically required for everything from buyingtrain tickets to booking a hotel in China, the option of a digital versiontakes away the need to carry around physical cards. 

Furthermore, it is likely to further integrate WeChat into thehabits of users’ everyday lives – further cementing its status as the ultimate‘app for everything’.

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