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WeChat gets serious about in-app purchases and e-commerce with its latest update

WeChat international users 01

WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, has unveiled an update to its Android app. In addition to some notable UI additions, the update sees Tencent drawing even greater emphasis on WeChat’s mobile payment function. For readers who were wondering how WeChat would monetize beyond the hints Tencent provided in the past few months, this update, which Technode covers in detail, should give some further clues.

In this new version 5.1 of WeChat, users can pay to do a lot of things. Here are four new additions to look out for:

  1. For starters, Tencent has increased the number of participants accommodated in group chat, from 40 members to 100. Users can only have one such group… unless they pay a small fee using WeChat’s mobile payment function.
  2. Users can also top-up their own personal mobile phone accounts, and can do so as well for anyone in their contacts list. It’s done, of course, using the WeChat payments funtion.
  3. Users can also input a “delivery address” into their profile, which will ease the sending, delivering, and gifting of physical goods purchased on Tencent’s Yixun e-commerce platform. Yixun is integrated deeply into WeChat, and its products can be purchased using WeChat’s payment function.
  4. In the app’s popular 1942-esque plane game, players can revive their fighter jet after it crashes. Users simply pay RMB 6 (just under $1) through their WeChat payment account.

This v5.1 update to the Android app is being rolled out exclusively through Tencent’s MyApp store, which marks another key strategic move. Chinese Android users can choose from any number of app stores, so if you’re a WeChat power user who usually sticks with Baidu and 91 WirelessHiMarket, Tencent is hoping to divert you to its own shop for at least a few minutes.

Tencent rolled out WeChat’s previous major 5.0 update last August, which saw prominent rollouts of paid stickers, social gaming, as well as formal introduction the WeChat mobile payment feature. The latter feature was widely believed to mark the beginning of the app’s march towards monetization. Lately WeChat has been experimenting with various forms of e-commerce, exemplified by its cooperation with Xiaomi to sell Xiaomi phone via the app. But the online shopping aspect hasn’t yet been fully implemented.

The recent update, like 5.0 before it, is only available for domestic Chinese users.

If Tencent succeeds in using WeChat as a new conduit for e-commerce revenues, it changes the power balance among China’s internet giants. The undisputed leader in all-things-online-shopping has always been Alibaba, which raked in $5.7 billion in sales during China’s Cyber Monday-esque Singles Day, about 21 percent of which came through mobile. The e-commerce giant has been fighting back by aggressively pushing its own messaging app, Laiwang, and by developing online-to-offline functionality for its Alipay payment platform.

Last November Tencent revealed that WeChat currently has over 270 million monthly active users worldwide.

(Editing by Steven Millward)

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