WeChat’s app store-like mini program ecosystem attracted more than 450 million daily active users (DAUs) in 2021, up 12.5% from 400 million DAUs in 2020, according to figures released on Thursday by the Tencent super app.

Why it matters: Mini programs have seen increasing adoption in China and WeChat’s latest figures suggest users have grown used to operating on apps-within-an-app rather than going to multiple standalone platforms. 

  • Mini programs allow users to access an array of services without leaving the main app. The system offers merchants a chance to access a vast pool of users by building lightweight apps within WeChat, an ubiquitous app in China, instead of having to develop a separate app and convince users to go there. 

Details: WeChat mini programs have expanded their user base and seen growing usage over the past year, head of Weixin Open Platform Lake Zeng said on Thursday at WeChat Open Class Pro 2022, an annual event for WeChat business partners and developers held in Guangzhou.

  • Ahead of the system’s fifth anniversary on January 9, it was revealed that WeChat mini programs topped 450 million DAUs in 2021, with users spending 32% more time on them each day when compared with 2020.
  • In 2021, the total number of mini programs increased 41% year-on-year, while mini programs supporting payment transactions grew by 28%. Users who pay through mini programs soared 80% year-on-year. Small- and medium-sized companies drove 90% of the growth, Zeng said. 

The pandemic accelerated mini program adoption: The company said that more than 700 million users have accessed pandemic control services such as Covid-19 tests and vaccination appointments through mini programs on WeChat, cultivating habits of using the embedded app function. 

  • Sectors hit the hardest by the pandemic, including catering, tourism, and retail, saw their transaction volumes on mini programs double year-on-year in 2021.
  • During the pandemic, the number of active mini programs offered by overseas merchants grew 268% over the past two years, with total transaction volume surging 897% in the same period. 

Context: Launched in 2017, WeChat mini programs have been aped and adopted by a host of Chinese apps, including Tencent’s QQ, JD.com, Baidu, Meituan, Alibaba’s Alipay and Taobao, and ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao and Douyin. 

  • WeChat’s healthy growth for mini programs comes as the total number of native apps in Chinese app stores has slumped more than 40% over the last three years amid regulatory crackdowns and a mature market.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.