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WeChat E-Commerce Showdown: Mini-Programs or Mobile H5 Stores?

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

The rise of upstart e-commerce platform Pinduoduo has been one of the most talked about China success stories of 2018, as its WeChat mini-program helped it grow its user base to 300 million in under three years. Today, 233 million of Pinduoduo’s monthly active users access its e-commerce store through its WeChat mini-program[1].

For the retail industry, what makes WeChat mini-program stores so special, and how are they better than existing WeChat stores?

Azoya Consulting breaks down how WeChat mini-program stores work, and their advantages and disadvantages when compared to traditional mobile H5 WeChat stores.

The basics – what is a mini-program, and what is a mobile H5 WeChat store?

Let’s take a step backwards and look at traditional WeChat H5 stores, which existed long before WeChat mini-programs came into play.

Mobile H5 WeChat stores are mobile-optimized e-commerce stores that are linked to WeChat official accounts.

For brands, official accounts act as brand pages that can push content to users. Users can follow brands’ official accounts and receive push notifications whenever new content is published. Once inside these official accounts, users can access the H5 stores and make purchases.

The above example shows Cofco’s Official Account and its linked WeChat H5 store. Cofco is a state-owned enterprise that has branched into the online selling of food and health products in recent years. A user has to search for the official account first, and then once the user finds the page and enters it, he/she has to click on the store link to reach the mobile H5 e-commerce store.

Mini-programs are mini-apps within the WeChat ecosystem.

They are limited to a storage size of ten megabytes and consist of light, mobile-optimized pages. Tencent reported in November that there are now one million WeChat mini-programs on the market, with a total of over 200 million daily active users[1]. Some key characteristics:

1. Users do not have to download them separately. Mini-programs can be accessed through many different ways within the WeChat ecosystem.

2. Pages load very fast, so that even users in lower tier cities with smaller-sized smartphones can load them with ease.

3. Companies also have to put in less work to develop mini-programs, compared to apps and mobile H5 stores.

WeChat mini-programs can be used for many different applications, but e-commerce is the second most common function. Out of the top 100 mini-programs in July, 42 were gaming-related mini-programs, while thirteen were e-commerce mini-programs[2].

We summarize some of the main advantages that mini-programs have when it comes to e-commerce:

Mini-programs can be much more easily accessed by users

There are many ways in which users can access WeChat mini-programs. Similar to mobile H5 stores, they can also be linked to WeChat official accounts and the marketing content they produce. 20% of mini-program users access them through WeChat official accounts,[3] indicating that brands still have to invest in content marketing on their official accounts.

A main advantage mini-programs have is that they can be embedded at the end of content on WeChat official accounts, which makes it easier to convert users. Many KOLs also have official accounts that use this feature as well.

However, sharing is the most popular way of accessing a mini-program, driving 26% of mini-program traffic.

As you can see from the picture below, mini-program sharing is much more visual and dynamic than sharing content from a WeChat official account. Users can share mini-program stores, or the products and marketing campaigns within the stores if they so choose.

Sharing Mobile H5 WeChat Stores vs Mini-Program Stores

Once users click on the mini-program, they are quickly taken to a page where they can make transactions. Since the pages are limited to a certain size and WeChat Pay is already embedded, the screen loads quickly and purchasing becomes a very seamless process.

Mini-programs can also easily be accessed through a navigation bar on the main chat window. All a user has to do is slide down on the page and a list of recently used and saved mini-programs will show up. This accounts for 14% of mini-program users.

Mini-programs in main WeChat navigation window

Mini-programs can also be accessed through the discover tab on one’s main WeChat page, WeChat’s internal search engine, scanning QR codes, and more. QR codes can be a great way to facilitate the online-offline activation of users, but we’ll leave this topic for another article.

Mini-programs have strong notification systems that make them more suitable for e-commerce

WeChat mini-programs are unique in that they can send service notifications to users. That is, they can notify them when packages have been dispatched, delivered, and paid for.

In the example below, we show how coffee delivery start-up Coffee Box notifies its customers. Its service notifications can alert customers when orders are being prepared, as well as when they have been dispatched and delivered.

For customers who are wondering where their orders are, they can call the driver directly or locate their drivers on an integrated map.

In the e-commerce world, this is a very powerful feature that can help a company differentiate itself from others. Customer service is a very important factor that shouldn’t be discounted.

Mini-programs can be designed for social sharing and selling, helping brands to go viral on WeChat

Mobile H5 stores on WeChat are primarily driven by the content driven on brands’ official accounts and the KOLs & influencers that help market them.

Mini-program stores can do a lot more to drive traffic, because they are mini-apps that can be customized to add fun and interactive features. The diverse applications and social nature of WeChat mini-programs means that they can be more easily shared and go viral on WeChat.

We briefly outline a few cases below:

Personalization + e-commerce. Sergio Rossi enables users to customize and purchase heels within their mini-program, a fun and interactive activity that can also be shared amongst friends.

Group buying discounts + e-commerce. Pinduoduo popularized the use of group buying discounts on mini-programs, introducing group buying flash sales discounts for those who forwarded them to their friends.

Livestreaming + e-commerce. Mogujie, a social commerce platform selling apparel to 18-22-year-old women, has incorporated QVC-like livestreaming shows into its mini-program. Within the mini-program, users can see livestreaming hosts try on clothes and ask them questions about the material and fit. Mogujie’s mini-program store has a transaction conversion rate that is twice that of its standalone mobile app.

These are just a few examples. On WeChat mini-programs, brands can create games, add coupons, send gift cards, incorporate location-based services, and much more. More creative ways can be developed to interact with customers and build their fan bases. We will delve deeper in these topics in later articles.

The Downsides of WeChat Mini-Programs

1. The size of a mini-program is constricted to ten megabytes, limiting their functionality when compared to mobile H5 stores and mobile apps. However, pictures and videos are hosted on WeChat servers and do not count as part of this limit.

2. The data is stored on WeChat’s servers. Brands will have less access when compared to their own mobile stores.

3. Mini-programs cannot send out push notifications when a new piece of content, product, or marketing campaign is released. WeChat official accounts, on the other hand, can. WeChat official accounts are still more suitable for long-form blog content and marketing.

4. Mini-programs also cannot be shared on users’ WeChat Moments, which limits their ability to go viral. WeChat mobile H5 stores don’t have this restriction, because they’re embedded within one’s official account.

5. WeChat mini-program users can only use WeChat Pay to make purchases, whereas mobile H5 stores can add AliPay, Union Pay, and other payment methods.

Lastly, WeChat is still a closed private network in that users cannot send mini-programs or messages to users they are not connected with (though they can send them in WeChat groups). Users also cannot browse the moments/news feeds of users they are not connected with.

In short, it is still difficult to drive traffic to a WeChat mini-program.

These drawbacks mean that brands and retailers still have to invest in content marketing and WeChat official accounts to help pull in users. Official accounts can push content, send notifications, and also link to mini-programs.

Working with KOLs and influencers can help drive traffic, as many of them have their own official accounts that can link to other mini-programs at the end of the blog articles they publish. Some influencers are even launching mini-program stores of their own.

Lastly, brands have to design mini-programs with interactive and creative features to encourage social sharing.

Key Takeaways

1. Mini-programs are mini-apps that are light and easy to load, being limited to ten megabytes each. Users do not have to download them separately, and they are easier to develop.

2. WeChat mini-programs can be much more easily accessed by users, compared to mobile H5 stores embedded within an official account. 26% of users access WeChat mini-programs that are shared by friends or within WeChat groups. Official accounts drive 20% of mini-program traffic; mini-programs can be embedded at the end of content pieces published by official accounts.

3. WeChat mini-program stores have strong notification systems that can let a customer know when the goods have been shipped, delivered, and paid for. From a customer service perspective, this helps put customers at ease.

4. Brands can design fun and interactive social features for their mini-program stores, making customers more likely to share them with friends. Some brands have designed interactive games, while others have introduced group buying discounts and livestreaming to lift conversion rates.

5. It is still hard to drive traffic to WeChat mini-programs. They cannot send unsolicited marketing promotions through push notifications, and users cannot post them on their Moments/News Feed. Since WeChat is a closed network where users cannot view information posted by strangers, brands have to design creative mini-programs to encourage sharing amongst followers.

This article was first published by Azoya, read more at https://www.wechat.azoyagroup.com/blog/wechat-e-commerce-showdown-mini-programs-or-mobile-h5-stores

[1] “How Pinduoduo Works.” 29 July 2018. Hans Tung Personal Website. 30 Nov 2018 <https://hans.vc/pinduoduo/>

[1] “马化腾:微信小程序引用数超100万 日活达2亿.” 7 Nov 2018. ChinaZ. 30 Nov 2018 < http://www.chinaz.com/news/2018/1107/955689.shtml>

[2] ““我的小程序”场景能量初显,入口用户访问量最高增长11倍,访问频次最高增长9倍.” 1 August 2018. Aldwx. 29 Nov 2018 <http://www.aldzs.com/viewpointarticle?id=1660>

[3] “2018年小程序胜肽进化报告.” 18 July 2018. 即速引用. 30 Nov 2018 < http://www.100ec.cn/detail--6460453.html>


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