Author: Silvia Gramegna
WeChat, in Chinese 微信 (Wēixìn), is a multi-purpose instant messaging, social media, and mobile payment software created by Tencent. The Shenzhen-based multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate and holding company first released the application in 2011. By 2018, WeChat had already surpassed 1 billion monthly active users, thus becoming the world’s largest standalone mobile app. Today, WeChat has more than 1.2 billion active users and 78% of people in China aged 16-64 use it. Because of its extensive functionality, WeChat has been dubbed China’s “app for everything” and a “super app.”
WeChat began as a simple smartphone messaging app, but it has now evolved into an integral aspect of Chinese life: it is used to contact friends, buy groceries, hail a taxi, and even arrange a doctor’s appointment. In China, it is practically impossible to live without it. One of the reasons for WeChat’s success is its QR code scanner, which has allowed it to become China’s most popular payment app.
Other useful features of the app are the mini-programs that save users from downloading additional apps on their phones. They provide direct access to a wide variety of WeChat-based services, such as Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-hailing service, allowing users to hail and pay for rides directly from WeChat. Restaurant tables frequently contain Mini Programs, which customers can access by a QR code on the table and use to order food, pay for it, and have it delivered to the table without the need for human intervention.
In 2014, for the Chinese Lunar Year, the app introduced the possibility of exchanging a digitized version of the traditional red envelopes (红包). This operation proved to be extremely successful and in 2020, WeChat Pay witnessed a record of 823 million users sending and receiving red packages. In 2021 another novelty was introduced with the possibility for users to purchase customized envelopes. Several Western brands, including Gucci, Burberry, Versace and Louis Vuitton, jumped onto this marketing trend releasing their own envelope covers.