Mini thoughts on WeChat Mini programs (Part I)

Today, China’s top messaging app, with over 840 million active users, is trying something seemingly revolutionary. WeChat is today rolling out “mini programs,” embedded apps which require no download or install.

From active user point of view

1. Saving the trouble of downloading other apps. (But does it really matter as much as we thought)?

It was predicted many times before that Appstore would no longer be viable in the long run. What replaces it would be a simple search bar or a voice assistant that receives commands before churning out results. After all, apps were built to solve real life problems.

Downloading an app certainly requires more effort as compared to simply scanning a QR code (an action too commonplace in China nowadays as compared to other parts of the world) or entering keywords in a search bar (same as what we do everyday on Google). For example, as you were talking to your friends about booking a trip to Japan, you would no longer need to switch to another ticket-booking app. CTrip has its mini programs now ready to be summoned.

However, it is worth evaluating the possibility of people removing native apps that they are already addicted to. For example, even if mini program allows you to read Facebook feed, you would not remove Facebook app from your desktop. Your fingers and subconsciousness remember exactly where to press to launch Facebook, instead of clicking three times in WeChat to launch it.

As such, it is more likely that mini programs will receive more advocates from long-tailed markets, or entrepreneurs determined to solve specific pain points, such as “checking air quality at current location”.

2. Saving the trouble of registering or logging in before using other functions.

WeChat has certainly emerged as one of the most popular third-party login options for Chinese speakers (the other two being QQ and Weibo). Over the years, users have gradually strengthened trusts with WeChat that they now feel secure to stay within this ‘Super app’ while interacting with other merchant.

With mini program, users save the trouble of skipping between pages just to get started. WeChat will ask permission to gain access once and for all. The whole process takes only one click. Imagine you are trying to kickstart your app fan base offline, the on-boarding cost is much lower now whereby users do not have to worry about wasting data and time in downloading apps from App store or Google Play store. All mini program apps are smaller than 1M and users will not feel the pain or the wait.

3. We can finally start to release phone memory by uninstalling infrequently-used apps.

Many times we keep an app not because we use it often, but we want to save the trouble of having to re-download once we need it. For example, we do not travel everyday but once we do receive push notifications on holiday deals through email, we want to grab it fast.

Mini program on the other hand, encourages user to only activate it when in need. Once a task-driven objective is achieved, just close the window anytime.

From business owner point of view

  1. Integrating content into service with minimal clicks.

As Zhang said, mini programs should enable users to complete tasks as fast as possible. When there were only subscription and service accounts to choose, business owners put in paramount of effort in content marketing. Better copywriters managed to implant ads secretly into infographics, mini-videos or helpful blogs. Still, content do not provide direct service to users. It serves the purpose of informing, educating, circulating perhaps, but not converting. When users want to make an action, they still need to switch to native apps or websites to complete the purchasing cycle, which could have resulted in significant loss in effective conversions.

2. Payment made easy.

With mini programs, business owners can choose to integrate WeChat payment API if they need a one-stop solution for e-commerce. As more traditional contents are digitalised and consumed, people start to spend at high frequency (often at small amount) on their interests and hobbies, such as movies, videos, music and e-books.

3. Just another channel for penetration.

Personally, I speculate that such move of assembling apps implies that WeChat has the ambition of becoming the Google+AppStore in China. Given that Baidu has lost faith from its users due to a few major scandals, it is now WeChat’s turn to subtly snatch eyeballs and more importantly, to restore trust. WeChat has been known as the most popular close-circle social tool, where the penetration rate already surged over 80% with an average of 166.9 app launches per week. If majority of Chinese are already on WeChat for this long stealing attention from other channels, it is no longer a chatting tool but an important gateway for information flow, and subsequently cashflow. We have yet to see Whatsapp following suit partly because Facebook is playing the role of “platform” and Whatsapp still stays as a tool. Do Facebook plan to merge the two? Maybe not in the near future.

In Part II, I will be discussing the impact of mini programs from WeChat stakeholders’ point of view, as well as sharing a few case studies where mini programs should be applied.