WeChat’s director of user growth talks up new features for overseas clients

I got a chance to sit down at RISE 2017 in Hong Kong with WeChat’s Director of User Growth Stephen Wang. 

For those unfamiliar, WeChat began as a messaging app back in 2010 created by China’s Tencent, but over the years, it has quickly become a tool of everyday life in mainland China. WeChat has 889 million monthly active users; 83 percent of people surveyed use WeChat for work, and 93 percent of respondents from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities use WeChat’s internal payment system for offline purchases.

See also: Why do major American corporations struggle in China?

Having such a deep hold on the Chinese consumer base both in terms of engagement and pure numbers, WeChat has naturally become of interest to both domestic and foreign enterprises. As a result, WeChat has begun releasing more and more features over the years to assist with business operations and communications in China, and recently, foreign brands have begun launching WeChat official accounts to promote brand awareness and sales.

Now, WeChat is rolling out two brand-new features, social ads and cross-border pay, to further cater to non-Chinese companies.

ReadWriteHow will social ads better aid foreign companies looking to promote themselves in China via WeChat?

Stephen Wang: Socials ads [are] a product that we only introduced only a little less than two years ago, and it has been growing very rapidly. [It functions] basically [by] narrowing targeted ads that businesses can [use to] target consumers in China, in [both] their moments feed and official accounts articles. 

Social ads … raise awareness and acquisition for international businesses and particularly for international businesses. We have been beta testing on a whitelist limited basis different brands who have been leveraging Social Ads. [The brands that have tested this new feature] are international businesses [that use social ads to narrowly target] users on WeChat from China who are traveling or are about to travel — Duty Free Shops and Cartier. We have [found] that these customers have been really satisfied with the product and as a consequence, next month, we plan to open up [social ads], which was previously invitation-only, to all international businesses to help them with their awareness and acquisition campaigns.

RW: What is cross-border pay and how does it make foreign merchants’ business transactions in China easier and more efficient?

SW: Cross-border pay is WeChat pay enabled for foreign merchants overseas, so Chinese [WeChat pay] consumers, of which there are over 600 million every month, [can] experience [the] same convenient, elegant payment mechanism whether they are inside China or … abroad. Right now we support 10 different currencies, and we have been rapidly developing this program all through East and Southeast Asia, particularly in Japan. We’ve seen four times growth within the last six months of total spend … in Japan.

As a consequence, in addition to the expansion we just announced last week in Tokyo at our first partner’s conference for WeChat-pay cross-border, we [also] just launched what we call the “open platform” for cross-border pay. What the “open platform” allows you to do is similar to [what] social ads [allow you to do]: it allows businesses in different countries — we have a qualified list of countries right now because [of our] list of supported currencies — to go online and instantly enroll in cross-border pay. Merchants and financial institutions … can [now] begin offering WeChat pay themselves in their stores overseas.

Our second announcement is our participation with Stripe, one of the leading software payment providers, to offer WeChat pay as a turnkey solution for mobile and web e-commerce [so that] merchants can, by checkbox approach, fulfill the requirements [they need to] begin accepting payments from Chinese consumers through mobile apps or their [own] websites. We are actually already seeing, via a prior partnership [with] Adyen, another leading software payments provider … that we launched with, … multiple merchants [finding] success leveraging WeChat pay on their mobile apps and websites. [A lot of start-ups] are already Stripe or Adyen customers, and they can instantly find a whole new source of consumers and revenue by just checking a box.

RW: Why should foreign companies use WeChat, or do business in China?

SW: There [were] 135 million outbound travelers from China last year. More than that, … 261 billion USD [was] spent by those outbound travelers. That actually [is] more than double the amount of [money spent by the world’s] second largest spenders, U.S. [travelers]. And it’s growing actually very, very quickly. We feel that [WeChat and its new features] present a really unique and unprecedented opportunity for international businesses to find success.

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