WeChat, the popular messaging app made by Tencent, is pushing even further into mobile commerce territory. Today Tencent (HKG:0700) added support for any brands to allow customers to purchase items or services inside the app. It works for both in-store payments (where retailers will likely scan a QR code generated by your order inside WeChat) or for purely online purchases that’ll be delivered to you later.
WeChat users in China can now find this option inside some brands’ official accounts. It works only with ‘service accounts’ which are designed to support companies and retailers in offering things like loyalty cards, customer service, and online selling.
An example of the new in-app purchases in WeChat can be seen in the account belonging to Pacific Coffee, a chain of stores that rivals Starbucks and Costa. Within Pacific Coffee’s brand account in WeChat, there’s the option to buy drinks. It looks like this:
Customers can then select the type of drink, size, number of cups, and also the payment method. In this case, those in need of caffeine can pay via WeChat Payments (update: A Tencent representative points out this should be called Weixin Payments, referring to the app’s Chinese name, as it’s not available to overseas users. Subsequent uses of the phrase have been changed) or Pacific’s own prepaid card. Here are the screenshots:
From messaging to mobile commerce
WeChat has done ecommerce before with things like flash sales of Xiaomi phones and paying for taxi rides. And Tencent already has Weixin Payments in place as the messaging app’s main epayment option. The addition of a framework for in-app purchases allows the app to take the functionality mainstream to all verified vendors, whether they’re big name brands or ordinary small businesses.
Now it’s a case of waiting for retailers, ecommerce sites, and other companies to make use of it. Lots of big-name companies have WeChat service accounts – from McDonalds to Qunar, Starbucks to Xiaomi.
Tencent’s opening up of the purchasing system to brands will open up the possibility of other integration, notes the Tencent Tech blog today. That includes integration with other Tencent services such as daily deals, Dianping listings, and Tencent’s Yixun estore. However, it’s less clear how brands can make use of those things.
WeChat’s tie-up with a taxi app saw two million people pay for taxi rides in one busy day last month, so the scope is there for the messaging app to become a viable way for people to pay for things – both from home and while in-store.
This latest roll-out by WeChat is yet another threat to Tencent arch-rival Alibaba. The e-commerce titan wants its own ewallet app, Alipay, which has 100 million registered users, to remain China’s top epayment method. But WeChat, as a social app, is in a lot more people’s pockets than Alipay, and Tencent wants everyone to use it for far more than just chatting.
(Editing by Josh Horwitz)