In a country like China, business name cards are no longer needed. Now people use their smart phones to capture and share info with each other. They do this by scanning a QR code found on the business card, and then an app will store all the vital contact information onto the user’s contact list. The one app they use is called WeChat (called Weixin in China). Launched in early 2011, it has attracted 100 million users in the first 15 months, and as of last fall, WeChat now has 270 million monthly users and is growing at a rapid pace globally. WeChat has become one of the most popular-messaging apps in the world and is ready to take off in 2014.
With the recent purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook in the news, messaging apps have become very mainstream. Other apps like Viber has also been purchased, and additional apps like Line are being considered for purchase by larger media companies. But the one app that has the greatest future is WeChat, owned by China’s biggest Internet company, Tencent. Tencent was founded in 1998 and is known for its other popular products like mobile IM service, QQ and search engine, SoSo. While many of their products are used only domestically in China, Tencent has struck gold with WeChat. WeChat has been embraced globally besides locally, and has legs to grow even more.
WeChat combines the best features of many other apps all available in one app: internet calling like Viber, video chat features like Skype, messaging like WhatsApp, and photo taking like Instagram. It also has other features including QR code scanning, gaming, microblogging and more. However, what makes WeChat distinctive compared to its other messaging app peers is the ability to monetize its user base.
Starting with games and ‘stickers’ for user’s profiles, WeChat started to allow users to link their bank accounts into their WeChat accounts and make purchases. Offline businesses became involved and started implementing the power of WeChat purchasing. A great example is vending machines that enabled customers to purchase goods via their WeChat app. The most noteworthy initiative was WeChat’s monetization of the recent 2014 Chinese New Year holiday, where WeChat offered ‘gifting’ of money to other members strictly through WeChat. Using the ‘Red Envelopes’ tradition used in Chinese New Year celebrations, WeChat members could send money to each other via their WeChat accounts. Millions of dollars of currency were sent through WeChat during that holiday, making the app a commerce channel for the masses. Additionally, WeChat started to offer brands and celebrities an m-commerce platform which allows them to sell goods and services directly to their fan base.
As Facebook helps WhatsApp expand, WeChat’s opportunity for international expansion is now. With its wide range of functionality, WeChat can be very appealing to millions of other new customers globally. WeChat, and its parent company Tencent, seems to be making a big commitment to this challenge and is looking to expand to other markets in 2014, including the USA.
Whether or not WeChat succeeds will be unknown, but with its wide range of capabilities, past history and the current environment for messaging apps, WeChat seems to be riding an ascendant wave.