WeChat Is Beating Messenger and Whatsapp At Their Own Game, Here’s Why

How to make a payment using WeChat Pay

If you ever get the chance to go to China, buckle your seatbelt. For most westerners, it’s an intense culture shock. You may think I’m referring to the food, the air quality, or even the mass crowds spouting a language that we are unfamiliar to. Sure, these strike you, but what is really shocking is this cultural phenomenon, the mobile app, WeChat. You may have heard of it, or perhaps you used it once to chat with a buddy studying abroad, but in China, WeChat is more than an app, it is LIFE!

Before I touched down in Shanghai for my first time, I downloaded the infamous “WeChat” mobile app and thought I would give it a try. Little did I know — the whole damn country was already on here and I probably could have made my way into social circles without even making the 10 hour flight… Friends of friends of friends introduced me to anyone I needed to speak to about tech in China, and startups in general. It was incredible.

Speechless, and chest out, I felt as if I was a WeChat pro already. Once I officially arrived in Mainland China, I quickly found out that I had much to learn… The app was not a communication app, it was a lifestyle. Everywhere you went, people were asking me for my WeChat QR code so they could add me to their contact list, local shoppers were making purchases through WeChat in one swift movement, printed out QR codes were posted all over walls, taxi cabs handed you their laminated QR code for payment, and friends of mine were having calls on-demand with colleagues all around the world in one click. Looking around, you would think that the future had finally arrived.

What is WeChat? Well, it started as communication platform very similar to WhatsApp, Messenger or iMessage. However, every year since it’s inception, a new feature has reestablished its dominance in the market, and claimed that cultural phenomenon status that Facebook or Snapchat have captured in western markets. With 889,000,000 monthly active users and a 93% saturation rate in China’s tier one cities (active users/ city population), WeChat is on a path to conquer without anybody in their way…

“We measure growth not by numbers of users, or chat messages, but by how deeply our product is engaged in every aspect of a user’s lifestyle.”
- WeChat’s Senior Product Manager, Stephen Wang

What has made WeChat such a cultural wave for the past few years? Let’s take a look! Oh, and before we dive in. Join our new WeChat group!

Here’s 5 reasons why the western world can’t compete with WeChat:

1.) Keeping in touch with your friends, interest groups, and professional network is ALL in one place.

If you get to China and you want to start meeting new friends, this is the only way to do it.

To add friends you simply take out your QR code which is in your profile settings, and have your new friend scan the code. The app will connect you two instantly. The QR code works without wifi, but you will need internet connection to scan, and send invites to friends. You’ll be amazed how many people you meet by asking “what’s your WeChat?” I have around 150+ new contacts, and 20+ new startup oriented WeChat groups stored on my mobile now… It’s wild how fast you can make friends, get invited to interest groups, or meet the perfect contact on this thing!

2.) You can call your friends for free, send them audio messages or video chat

Sure, you’re not calling an actual number, but what’s the difference. While in China, I was able to get friends and colleagues on the line in seconds. Now that I’m back in the states, I’m still able to have calls with those same friends, well, as long as our timezones match up. They’re not too happy when I call them at 01:00 AM GMT+8, so while I’m hustling over in Los Angeles, I just drop them a voice message. There’s many ways to connect and stay connected and they’re all super user friendly.

3.) You can literally ditch your wallet, Apple Pay, Paypal and Venmo or whatever else you use

This is a game-changer. Anywhere you go, payments can be made through WeChat. Take that back- *ARE made. It’s used everywhere. You can pay using your WeChat wallet online for delivery services, for sending money to your buddies, making purchases at the supermarket, a restaurant, or even scan your taxi driver’s QR code — and — done! Hell, even street merchants selling meat skewers outside of a local bars on Friday nights accept WePay… yeah, yeah, I indulge here and there.

But seriously, it’s really easy to make payments and you don’t even have to leave the app you have been using all day talking to friends. Oh, and for our favorite merchants, well, they never have to update their payment terminals or buy expensive software. They just have to print out their QR code for you to scan… amazing, right?!

Last thing about payments, I promise: WeChat Red Packets.

What remains a long Chinese New Year tradition, where people send their loved ones, friends and colleagues money inside of decorative red envelopes during the New Year, made its way to WeChat. These Red Packets, or Hongbao 红包, made waves in Mainland China, further embedding itself into the culture.

“The growth of WeChat Pay was initially driven by close tight knit social circles — friends and family sending money to each other and they were willing to connect their bank accounts to do the same.”
- YCombinator, Anu Hariharan

I personally was in China this time in January, and witnessed the app push its way into this tradition by challenging people to win Red Packets on electronic billboards, or watching friends send family members a few hundred RMB after finishing dinner. It was insane to imagine the number of people that were actually doing this, but it seemed like everyone in China. Well, I may have actually been right. It was reported that during the Lunar New Year, 46 Billion Red Packets were sent over WeChat. That’s a lot of hot pots

4.) No need to share your life on multiple platforms. WeChat made social media, simple…

You’ve probably heard about China’s notorious firewall. Oh, you haven’t? Well, without a VPN in China you cannot access Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Google, and a handful of other western platforms. How does anyone live without these you might ask? WeChat… On WeChat, you have your own form of social media — it’s called “moments”. This is how people keep track of what their friends are up to, post their status and photos, and even share or favorite certain articles that are floating around. Yeah, this app is literally everything you need. While western apps are trying to sell you a toothbrush (apps that you use more than 3x a day), it’s as if Chinese companies want to build you an entire bathroom… ok, weird metaphor, but you get it.

5.) You don’t need to follow companies on multiple platforms, WeChat has “Official Accounts”

Content that people ACTUALLY read is a huge roadblock that western publications face when it comes to new markets with low attention spans. Not for China! With 68% of WeChat users being between the ages of 15–29, a large majority are reading WeChat articles around pop culture, politics, technology, and you can even catch the older generation reading up on wellness or self-help.

Not to mention, according to Katie Zhu, users are consuming on average, 7 articles per day at 1,000 characters each. That’s pretty much like reading one novel per month…

It’s ridiculous to see companies and publications alike creating content that people actually read. Oh, and if you’re a foreigner coming to China, here are some awesome English Official Accounts you should follow!

There are also a couple new features that are already making headlines!

  • WeChat Run — It’s basically Nike’s running app, but you don’t have to leave WeChat!
  • WeChat’s Store of the future — Imagine in-store grocery shopping using your phone!
  • WeChat Mini Apps — There’s a lot of talk about Mini apps — but they’re on the way!
  • WeChat Shake — Want to connect with friends and play games in person. Try this out!
  • WeChat Deliveries — You won’t find Postmates, DoorDash or GrubHub in China. Just use WeChat to order food delivery to your doorstep.

One last thought: Why hasn’t the western world achieved this level of cultural adoption?

In America’s competitive ecosystem, have we been jaded by too many great ideas? Seriously — think about it. This app does what WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Square, Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Postmates, GrubHub, Nike, Amazon, Uber and Skype all in one app…. Think about how easy your life would be with one app on your phone…. But, does lack of competition or finite options create a more useful technology culture? Or is there something ‘not right’ about every aspect of your life being in one place?

In Mainland China, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba are all thinking the same thing. They don’t want to build one great feature, they want to embody everything you need. WeChat (Tencent) obviously faces competition amongst China’s other tech giants, but with a monopolized technology market, they don’t even flinch when asked about Facebook, WhatsApp, or Messenger. We have created cultural waves in our technology industry, but when compared to China— it’s just a different way of life.While western tech companies are looking to make their products more complex to beat out the competition around the globe, China is trying to revolutionize their country with a simple QR code.

Signing out.

Matt Wright

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