WeChat reached a flashpoint last year. As of Q3 2014, WeChat had 468 million monthly active users and 5.8 million public accounts. As one of the most successful instant messaging platforms in Asia, WeChat also has eCommerce ambitions. However, WeChat isn’t just an IM app — it’s also a social networking platform. To avoid negatively affecting its user experience, WeChat has been developing its eCommerce functionality slowly and cautiously; it’s trying out different eCommerce models and is still in the early stages of providing a good commerce experience.

While the rapid growth of smartphone penetration and shifted consumer behaviors in China are driving tremendous growth in mobile shopping, the tight integration of mobile and social that WeChat provides creates valuable mobile engagement opportunities for enterprises. Brands and retailers in China don’t want to lose this opportunity, so they’re using WeChat to facilitate sales and customer engagement in multiple ways:

  • Working as one of the brand’s multichannel solutions. Brands in China develop WeChat as one component of their multichannel solutions as a preemptive strategy, as the WeChat platform has huge base of registered and active users and creates great potential for a long-term opportunity.
  • Enabling sales through product recommendations and promotional activities. According to JD.com, nearly 70% of the users who browse Jingdong Specials (WeChat’s first-level eCommerce portal) look for recommended products or search for something they want to buy. Brands often recommend products to their fans and inform them about promotional activities via their WeChat public accounts. This kind of introductory information allows consumers to quickly get information about products they’re interested in and proceed to the purchasing step when a promotional price is available.
  • Improving business outcomes by using WeChat payments. Chinese consumers have widely adopted WeChat payments, driven by the successful WeChat Red Envelope and Didi Taxi Hailing campaigns. Convenience stores and restaurants have adopted WeChat payments in store and allow consumers to search for restaurants, book tables, and pay for their meal — all through WeChat. The result? More orders and income.
  • Turning store shoppers into mobile shoppers. WeChat is a differentiated digital channel that engages customers during the presales, sales, and post-sales stages. Brands focusing on omnichannel initiatives can encourage in-store associates to communicate with customers through their WeChat accounts. This is an opportunity to instantly digitize and maintain the in-store and online connections.

Forrester believes that today’s consumers expect to get what they want in their immediate context and the moments of need — what we call the mobile mind shift. Firms must be ready to engage their customers wherever they are — not just via their own websites and apps, where they own mobile moments with their customers. They must also “borrow” mobile moments from third-party platforms like WeChat to serve customers in their existing task flows in context. For more on eCommerce strategy on WeChat, please stay tuned for my new report.