WeChat mini programs 1 year on: Key figures and trends

January 9th was WeChat mini program system’s first birthday. Throughout its first year, some startups picked it up and developed their own mini programs. There is now an ecosystem of mini programs. The advantage the small, light programs have is that WeChat users don’t need to download anything, they just start the mini app from within WeChat, saving time and memory space on the phone.

At the WeChat Open Class PRO held in Guangzhou on January 15, WeChat announced that they now have 980 million monthly active users. But the big question is, as WeChat is now becoming a platform for companies to start their business based on the WeChat ecosystem, how effective are WeChat mini programs for user acquisition and monetization? How can content entrepreneurs running WeChat public accounts monetize their user base?

Let’s review WeChat mini programs’ key numbers from 2017.

Hu Renjie, general manager of WeChat Open Platform announces the number of mini program users (Image Credit: WeChat)
  • 170 million users are using mini program every day
  • 30% of users are from first-tier cities. Second, third and fourth (and below) cities made up 50%
  • There are 580,000 mini programs online
  • There are more than 1 million mini program developers, business and individuals combined
  • There are 2,300 third party companies

So how the 2,300 third party mini programs differ from the 580,000 mini programs online? WeChat public platform (微信开放平台) certifies third party platform (第三方平台) companies, so that they can help other businesses to register their mini program through them, and develop mini program for them. In the Mini program ecosystem map, 有赞、轻芒、SEE小电铺、知晓程序 are third party platform companies.

Hu Renjie, general manager of WeChat Open Platform introduced WeChat mini programs use cases in five sectors:

Retail

Hu Renjie explaining retail mini programs (Image Credit: WeChat)

Hu gave three examples of retail stores using WeChat mini programs. Yonghui supermarket (永辉超市) has a mini program that consumer can scan QR code, shop, then pay directly and leave the store, so that consumers don’t have to stand in long queues, similar to BingoBox’s format. Meiyijia convenience store (美宜佳便利店) put discount coupons in the mini program. Family Mart’s gift card mini app takes advantage of WeChat’s social aspect and allows consumers to present gift cards to each other.

E-commerce

There are three models of WeChat mini programs, the first is “platform e-commerce”. According to Hu, 95% of e-commerce platform companies have created their own mini programs such as JD, Pinduoduo, and Mogujie.

“We also observe a phenomenon that many users spontaneously set up a WeChat group for sharing good products or a discounted products. Users are very accustomed to sharing their shopping experience in groups,” Hu says.

Second is “content e-commerce”. WeChat is home to a lot of original content and they are increasingly linked to e-commerce. The Rebecca (黎贝卡) WeChat public account has created a brand store mini program, and added 1 million users in about seven minutes. Hu did not share any sales figure of these mini programs, but mentioned that the WeChat team will keep on developing so those content companies can monetize through WeChat.

“We will do more to help these companies find new revenue models and earn money on top of their good quality content,” Hu remarked.

The third model Hu shared is the “brand e-commerce”. Mini programs can open up the membership system, to provide membership privileges, add points, purchase, share, send gift cards to achieve higher user retention.

Lifestyle

Currently, open the “mini program nearby (附近的小程序)” function, and you’ll see a list of local businesses including restaurants, beauty salons, coffee shops showing how far they are from the user with their address.

“The WeChat team has tried to create a low threshold for access to service via mini programs, allowing us to approach many potential users. Second, merchants can maximize the traffic to online services and make better transaction scenarios, and then have their customers linked to merchant’s public accounts. That way, they are using more channels to through which consumers can recognize them and make more touch points with the consumer, and expand the overall user base,” Hu said.

More than any other lifestyle services, Hu said bike rental and mobile charger rental programs are frequently used, as users find it easy to immediately use these mini programs.

Government services

Mini programs used for government services (Image Credit: TechNode)

Hu shared that the Intermediate People’s Court of Guangzhou has a mini program where they upload video of court trials and the Guangzhou Traffic Police has a mini program through which citizens pay fines.

“The government doesn’t need too much development capability and can provide very good services for citizens through mini program,” Hu says.

Mini games

WeChat released mini games (小游戏) on December 28 2017, and games are actually a sub-category of mini programs that will expand the content of mini program services. Developers can incorporate improved interactive and entertainment features to attract users.

“When we make our services, we consider how we can make WeChat users more accessible to each other, and to connect better. When they connect better, in fact, this is the traffic for WeChat,” Hu noted.

Conclusion

WeChat wants more businesses to join the bandwagon of WeChat mini programs. It’s totally up to businesses whether they stick to the WeChat ecosystem, or use other Chinese social platforms to “spread the eggs” and drive traffic. Still, considering Statista’s forecast that there will be 7.3 million apps in 2018, 580,000 mini programs looks like a better battleground to enter. If you still thing developing an app might be a safer option in the long term, keep in mind the fact there are hundreds of Chinese app stores due to the absence of Google in China, and upload your app to stores based on rankings such as the top 10 Chinese Android app stores.