Mobile shopping

SHANGHAI – WeChat is more than China’s dominant social media and messaging platform, it’s also a future leader in cross-border e-commerce, home to value-adding Key Opinion Leaders and the perfect avenue for brands to personalize interactions with their target audience.

Chat Shanghai, billed as the largest WeChat conference targeting the international community in China, was held on Sept. 1 and 2. It featured two days of demos, workshops, presentations and panel discussions about what may come next for the platform, known in China as Weixin, which already boasts 762 million monthly active users.

“We’re moving from the app era to the chat era, where businesses can build entire businesses on top of chat platform. This is already happening on WeChat,” said Matthew Brennan, cofounder of China Channel, one of the event organizers.

There are several meaningful ways in which brands can and should be utilizing WeChat, according to speakers giving presentations over the course of Chat Shanghai.

Many international brands have already opened official accounts on WeChat, in order to communicate and facilitate sales and customer service through the app. As more adaptors open official accounts, competition becomes fiercer to attract and retain the attention of WeChat users.

“The rate of user account acquisition is slowing down, but there has been an explosion of official accounts, growing 60 percent last year, while the user base grew 30 percent over the same period,” said speaker Joseph Leveque, cofounder of digital marketing agency 31Ten.

Though there have been rumors about a shake-up of WeChat’s official accounts system throughout 2016, at present brands and organizations can choose one of two account types — subscription and service accounts.

With subscription accounts, brands can post as much messaging and promotional materials as they like to followers, but those messages are confined in a separate section to the main chat page — what Leveque calls the “subscription account’s ghetto.”

Service accounts, on the other hand, enable brands to send messages that arrive directly in the main chat section of the platform, giving brands the same status as direct connections of WeChat users. But service accounts are limited to only four unsolicited posts per month and aren’t meant to be overt brand messaging tools.

Leveque said brands can best leverage the effectiveness of their official WeChat accounts by creating separate, more targeted accounts for users with different interests. He pointed to Nike as an example, with the global sportswear giant operating numerous official WeChat accounts, dedicated to running, for example, or basketball.

Increasingly, brands are also utilizing their WeChat accounts as a platform for selling product. The most famous example to date is Dior’s decision to sell Lady Dior handbags direct to consumers using WeChat in a special promotion leading up to the Qixi Festival — commonly known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.

A limited number of bags, priced at 28,000 yuan, or $4,210 at current exchange, were offered to Dior’s WeChat followers for a single day, before selling out.

The number of people buying products using WeChat doubled from start of 2015 to the start of this year, according to figures presented at Chat Shanghai by Thomas Graziani, cofounder of the WalktheChat agency.

The rise of WeChat and its payments platform, WeChat wallet, has eased the transition to social and mobile commerce using the app. At the same time a major appetite among Chinese consumers has emerged for products from overseas — commonly called cross-border e-commerce.

“The combination of these trends, the rise of cross border and the rising popularity of using WeChat to shop and mobile commerce means that there is a big opportunity to sell cross-border products using WeChat,” Graziani explained.

“Doing cross-border using [JD.com or Alibaba‘s Tmall]  is very expensive, there are lower barriers to entry on WeChat, there are already payment platforms and logistics infrastructure in place that makes it relatively easy to start up.”

Another major topic was China’s million-strong population of KOLs, who have built sizable audiences in the country’s unique social media eco-system — including WeChat — and are increasingly seen as an effective avenue for brands to reach more targeted consumer bases.

According to qualitative research conducted by influencer platform ParkLu, there needs to be a more collaborative attitude from brands who wish to make the most out of their relationships Chinese KOLs.

“Why would you engage a KOL to copy and paste your press release? There are certain KOLs who want to copy and paste, and if you meet them, you should run for the hills,” said ParkLu founder and chief executive officer Kim Leitzes. “Even though it will be easy, effortless and get your key messaging across, in the long run, what is the credibility and responsibility that this KOL feels to their fans?”

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