Why WeChat Mini Programs are not always the best option for your company in China

Why WeChat Mini Programs are not always the best option for your company in China

WeChat Mini Programs have become popular among companies in China in recent years due to their short development cycle, unified publishing for both Android and iOS systems, and powerful functions made possible by WeChat’s tools and integrations.

However, WeChat Mini Programs aren’t for everyone. Today we’ll discuss their applicability and why they may not be the most effective option for your business.

1. What is a WeChat Mini Program and what does it look like?

WeChat Mini Programs are apps that run within WeChat. They offer an excellent app-like experience without requiring you to leave WeChat and launch a separate app.

Mini Programs may not look like apps, but they can perform all of the functions of an independent app:

2. When would people use a Mini Program? What are WeChat Mini Programs best for?

WeChat Mini Programs were first released to help mobile users locate the nearest stores or service providers in their area. As with Google My Business, geographic location is critical for discovering what’s nearby.

WeChat Mini Programs were never intended to replace apps or mobile websites, but rather to provide businesses with physical presence an opportunity to reach the 1.2 billion monthly active users by leveraging the powerful WeChat ecosystem. As a result, most successful non-game Mini Programs with a high MAU usually share at least one of the three traits listed below:

  • A QR code of your Mini Program can be found in the real world.

It could be on a physical product or near where a service is provided, such as a QR code outside a shared meeting room where users can scan and book available time slots, or a QR code on a digital scale where users can scan and connect to their phone for comprehensive weight analysis.

  • Connected seamlessly with your WeChat Official Account

This is especially true when it’s not easy to discover your Mini Program via an offline location or a QR code.

  • Users are highly motivated to share your Mini Program to other WeChat Users

If they can’t find a Mini Program through the first two methods, they’re likely to find it through sharing by friends.

Does your company have a way to achieve at least one of the three traits listed above? If not then you may want to consider an alternative solution.

3. User Acquisition: Do you have an effective marketing strategy?

Let’s take a look at the most common ways people can find a brand’s digital presence today, and where these methods usually lead them.

PC-end User Acquisition Paths
Mobile-end User Acquisition Paths

As we can see in the diagrams above, the longer the conversion path, the lower the conversion rate. When searching for a brand on a laptop, most users land on a website, whereas apps have a significant advantage on mobile.

This is why acquiring users is difficult if there isn’t a straightforward way to find your mini program, such as a QR code in the real world, a WeChat Official Account with a large number of followers, or a strong incentive for sharing by an existing user.

So, before you get the WeChat Mini Program fever, consider your Mini Program’s use case, how you intend to reach targeted WeChat users, and whether it is aligned with your marketing strategy.

4. User Retention: Can you convert new users into MAUs?

Even if it is bookmarked, a previously used Mini Program cannot be kept in your phone’s home screen pages like an app. So what makes users revisit a Mini Program by looking for it among “My Mini Programs (if bookmarked previously)” or “Recently Used Mini Programs” when it is “out of sight and out of mind”?

If you don’t know the answer, let’s start with apps. Users reopen an app when they have a pressing need, receive a push notification, or randomly browse through their phone when bored.

Mini Programs, on the other hand, have “subscribed messages” instead of “push notifications” and can only be sent to users when triggered by certain events (such as the completion of a purchase) in a set template provided by WeChat with little room for customization. And because they can’t be found on your phone’s home screen, very few users are likely to go through the trouble of going into WeChat to browse the mini programs they used when they’re bored and randomly checking their phone.

That leaves only one scenario in which a user would revisit a Mini Program: having a pressing need right now. This could be the need to order at a restaurant, rent a portable power bank while out shopping, or schedule a gym session. Nonetheless, more than half of Mini Program revisits triggered by a pressing need still occurred via QR code scanning near the service location, bringing you back to the question of whether your mini program’s use case and marketing strategy are aligned.

5. Other Important Considerations

5.1 The registration and verification of a Mini Program before development

As previously stated, creating a Mini Program that is not linked to a WeChat Official Account is usually futile. Whether the account owner is an individual or an entity, each account must complete real name verification via phone number, ID card or business license, and bank account. In theory, you can register with an individual or entity from China or elsewhere, but only accounts with Chinese owners are eligible to use all of WeChat’s functions and features, leaving foreign accounts with limited access to many important marketing tools and business opportunities. If your users are in China, you will need to set up a Mini Program under a Chinese individual or entity.

5.2 Monetization

An app can be monetized through both in-app payments and in-app ads, whereas a Mini Program relies solely on in-app payments.

5.3 Programming language

The languages used (WXML + WXSS + JavaScript) are very similar to those used in website development. Although guides and tools are available in English, it may take some time for an international developer to get the hang of things and understand how to use all of the functions available within WeChat.

Closing thoughts

Mini Programs are excellent for selling to China if your company has a physical presence and a suitable marketing strategy. If you are unsure or have recently entered the Chinese market, it is best to begin by ensuring that your website, app, and WeChat account are properly set up, functional, and optimized, while a Mini Program can be the next step if it makes sense for your customers.