WeChat’s new logistics API: Are we impressed?

3 min read

Editor’s note: A version of this post by Thomas Graziani first appeared on WalktheChat, which specializes in helping foreign organizations access the Chinese market through WeChat, the largest social network on the mainland.

A few days ago, WeChat announced the release of a new logistics API enabling WeChat Mini-programs to connect with 3rd party logistics providers (developers can find the documentation here). The solution has already been implemented by companies such as the American skincare brand Kiehl’s (part of L’Oréal group) and is now being made available to the public. But is it any good?

The new WeChat Logistics API enables developers to create orders with major Chinese logistics providers. Merchants can:

  • Create a new shipping order with their logistics provider via the WeChat API
  • Track the order in real-time via the WeChat API or a PC tool provided by WeChat
  • Offer customers easy access to shipping information via WeChat
(Image credit: Walkthechat)

Users receive notifications from a “Service notification” (服务通知) folder informing them of their delivery’s status.

(Image credit: Walkthechat)

What are the benefits?

WeChat claims that this new API offers several benefits:

  • Easily integrates merchants system with logistics providers
  • Enables convenient integration with multiple logistics providers
  • Provides a centralized way for users to get notifications and shipment information

But you might ask: weren’t you always able to track your order’s delivery, no matter the platform you were ordering from? So what’s new here? The answer is: not much. In fact, many existing logistics APIs, such as Kuaidi100, already offer integration with multiple logistics providers through a centralized API.

And of course, mini-programs such as JD.com’s have long been able to integrate such data directly within the WeChat Mini-program interface. Such features do not require a specialized logistics API. WalktheChat also integrated its own tracking system inside its Mini-program, supporting shipping codes from more than 1,000 carriers. Moreover, WeChat Mini-programs can already message users with logistics notifications via their “template message” features.

The drawbacks

WeChat Logistics API therefore doesn’t provide much compared to already existing solutions. But it also comes with several drawbacks: it’s limited to WeChat, and only supports a small number of logistics providers.

The main drawback of the WeChat logistics API is of course, that it only works within WeChat. The creation of a new order requires the “OpenId” of the WeChat user (an ID obtained via WeChat log-in), so any order happening outside WeChat can’t leverage the API. This is problematic as, of course, most vendors don’t use WeChat Mini-programs as their only channel. They will be interested in using one single shipping API across their channels—and as we mentioned, there are already APIs in the market offering this service.

The WeChat Logistics system interfaces with only nine logistics providers so far: BEST, EMS, OTP, PJ, SF, YTO, YUNDA, ZTO, DB. This may seem like a lot, but it covers a tiny proportion of the fragmented shipping market. In comparison, Kuaidi100 API interfaces with more than 1,000 shipping providers.

So who is it good for?

The WeChat Logistics API might be good for small businesses who want to focus solely on WeChat Mini-programs for online sales and are looking for a quick solution for shipping integration. However larger brands with multi-channel approach will likely want to directly integrate with a provider that will work across channels, or directly with their shipping provider’s API.

The WeChat Logistics API is an interesting step for WeChat in the more “downstream” side of its e-commerce ecosystem.

However, the solution is a latecomer in an already mature and competitive market. The WeChat API is taking a very… WeChat-centered approach. It is therefore unlikely to replace mature cross-platform solutions which have already gained significant market share.