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China leading the way in social commerce

Aug 29, 2018

“Social commerce” is a buzz term that has been flying around the digital industry. It is seen as the future of online retail but western social media apps have been slow to react. In fact, only 18% of internet users in the states making a purchase directly via social media.

Currently, the market leader in social commerce is by far Tencent owned WeChat. The Chinese super app, commonly known as China’s answer to WhatsApp dominates its user’s everyday lives. We take a look at what the app is doing differently to its western counterparts.


WeChat is much more than just your average instant social messaging app. Whilst it does offer instant messaging functionality, WeChat allows users to complete a wide variety of activities through its app – from ordering food delivery, hailing a taxi or even booking appointments.

In western culture, we traditionally use multiple apps to perform these activities. Whereas, in China, WeChat users can do what WhatsApp, Uber, JustEat and Amazon do combined: We Chat allows users to engage with businesses, use online banking, purchase products and share recommendations all without leaving the app.

WeChat has evolved way beyond the form of the traditional social messaging platform and is awash with huge e-commerce opportunities.

Bridging the gap between online and offline commerce

WeChat seamlessly integrates between online activity and offline behaviour. In the west, commonly used strategies include: rewarding in-store ‘check-ins’ or promoting an offline event through the use of a hashtag. WeChat is more advanced.

WeChat users can quickly and easily apply coupons and discount codes in-store using the app. Users can also pay using the apps built-in payment function ‘WeChat Wallet’.

See a product in-store you like? Scan the product label using the apps built-in QR scanner and compare online prices or choose to purchase in-app.

Improved shopping experience

WeChat offers a convenient way for users to shop online. Users can be casually browsing items for inspiration and go the point of purchase in one speedy click – something Western social apps have yet to master. The app also allows for its users to easily find and follow local retailers, read and share product reviews plus offer exclusive loyalty cards, discounts and memberships from big chains to local independent boutiques, all in one place.

Our Takeaways

The likes of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are all making moves to improve their social commerce capabilities. Facebook provides the option to create a storefront on the app and use 'shop now' buttons on ads, Instagram now has ‘shoppable’ tags and has been testing an in-app purchasing feature, whilst Pinterest now has its ‘rich’ pins. WhatsApp – the West’s largest social messaging platform currently offers next to no e-commerce value. Even though these apps are slowly making the right moves, they are far from being as advanced as the current poster boy of social commerce.

A more cohesive approach and careful attention to the shopping experience is needed and quickly. Maybe they should take a leaf out the WeChat handbook….

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