Socially orientated e-commerce is the next big trend in China. China leads the way in this field with the success of its e-commerce sphere overlapping with social media networks in new and interesting ways.
WeChat, the largest social platform, is leading the charge with 850 million registered users. Last year they launched their game-changing service, WeChat ‘Micro E-Commerce Stores’, hosted within the app.
Here I’ll explore the potential for Micro Stores in China and how this evolution of e-commerce is set to have a dramatic effect in terms of sales and user engagement. This new form of social e-commerce will prove to be a key platform for connecting with customers, buyers and distributors in Mainland China.
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The Growth of Micro Stores and Mobile Payment
This whole trend has been facilitated by the rise and mass uptake of mobile payment. WeChat (alongside their main competitors, Alipay) is a dominant player with their ‘E-Wallet’ service becoming hugely popular. China is at least three years ahead of Europe and America in this regard with e-wallet payment essentially the norm.
Users simply connect their WeChat account to their banking for instant transfer of funds. Some have suggested this event signals the end of cash payments with the speed and convenience of scanning a QR code in-store and receiving an e-receipt the perfect solution for busy consumers in fast-paced, modern China.
The success of WeChat’s e-wallet as a common method of payment allowed WeChat to connect this with their own network of micro-commerce stores. Again the selling point is ease of payment, consumers just browse official stores, via the app, of brands, companies and services and make payment at the touch of a screen.
The uptake has been phenomenal
I was recently at a local craft market in Shanghai and the whole event was cashless with many stalls not even stocking many products. They had display models and a QR code to link customers to their official WeChat store to make payment and purchases for delivery.
The nature of digital engagement in China is often ‘on the go’, there are now over 550 million smartphones in China. In a culture now associated with instant gratification, the developments into ‘instant purchasing’ should not come as a surprise.
WeChat stores are innovative
WeChat stores can be set up as an addition to a business, official account. They act as mini-sites within the WeChat platform which benefit from instant e-payment. They are highly customizable with customer services offered via instant and group messaging. The ease of payment is one thing but so is the ease of access.
WeChat has long been thought of as primarily a branding platform, interested leads can now, however, be directly converted into sales via the store. It also connects the sales process with the sharing of quality content, offers or exclusive promotions for followers. It highlights the importance of building a reputation and increasing your number of followers as there is now a point of sale involved. Content is an important conduit in this process.
a) A unique online and offline shopping experience
Consumers can pay online and visit nearby shops to pick up products. Or they can visit the WeChat store and pay online through QR Code scanning and the e-wallet payment system. The platform makes the sales record highly trackable and traceable.
b) The integration of online and offline
QR codes drive traffic from offline to online and vice versa. They can be featured on your physical products to link to your WeChat store, this helps in driving traffic. It’s important to offer exclusive offers and content as an incentive with aggressive pricing for new market entry a popular strategy.
C) Data management all on one platform
Data can now be synced all on one platform. On the backend of a companies store, they can set up their own data management system to collate information on clients and consumers. This will improve customer and distributor relationship management through this one, integrated service.
WeChat stores are Tencent’s first step into e-commerce, currently dominated by Alibaba’s e-retail empire. However, with such a large, relatively captive audience on this network, you wouldn’t bet against them..
Connecting with & managing distributors
Arguably this is the most important function of the store. It offers companies the chance to showcase their product not just to consumers but also to Chinese distributors. Distributors will research online and are notoriously selective about who they work with, they are looking for established brands and a strong presence on WeChat is a vital part of this.
It also is evidence that you are selling and have built some traction in Mainland China. A core part of any new brands sales strategy should be marketing to distributors, the importance of a WeChat store from their perspective is a strong enough incentive to invest in this area.
Managing distributors is also important with stores allowing you to keep them up to date with product information, you can keep them in the loop about selling incentives, strategy and new offers you are developing, all through the platform.
Advanced Customer Insights
Connecting with customers via content and chat-based services is key. The other huge advantage of a WeChat store is the analytical insights obtained from your customers. Their personal profile provides much information on their areas of interest, habits, other purchases and even current location.
Files of customer purchases with addresses, amounts, dates, products, payment methods, returns and other information constitute a rich trove of marketing data. You can analyze this information to find out who your best customers are, what they like the most, and what kinds of marketing approaches appeal to them most powerfully.
Via WeChat’s service tools customers can be categorised according to their gender, spending amount and even geographic location. One of WeChat’s popular services is the location share option where users sharing their real-time position. A WeChat store can tap into this by offering certain incentives and promotions based on a users proximity to locations of interest. This is a developing field in Chinese marketing.
The other benefit is the depth of information companies can see on their customers. This helps with consumer profiling and when it comes to adapting and tailoring your brand to the Chinese end consumer.
The solutions for international companies.
The solution to benefit from this trend is to improve your visibility and reputation online in China in order to grow your official WeChat account and store whilst connecting this with your official website.
To succeed you need:
– Great Mandarin Content
– A quality Chinese website
– A strong presence and reputation on the right platforms
– WeChat is important but doesn’t neglect Baidu.
70% of all online research is conducted via this search engine, once consumers find your site you can drive them onto your WeChat store.
It is clear that WeChat’s developments in social e-commerce are vitally important and have set a strong precedent for the rest of the industry. With other successful apps functioning as e-stores and social messaging systems simultaneously there is much room for growth in this market. It also offers a stronger infrastructure for international firms to grow in China.