Evolution of eCommerce: from Retail to Social Networks; from China to the Western World – Part 1

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eCommerce affects us all, brands, retailers and consumers. It is evolving at such a pace that we need to, not just keep up to date with, but anticipate market technology and trends. This blog series will delve into three central areas within the evolving eCommerce market:

Let’s start to explore the Evolution of eCommerce.

Part 1 – Introducing the Evolution of eCommerce and Online trends in Asia – Blending social media with eCommerce

The way we shop, message and communicate is radically evolving. Online shopping has traditionally been done on eRetail websites like Amazon, while social network sites were born to connect people and create global communities. Now, another huge evolution is upon us, with online shopping, instant messaging and social networks morphing into one. Asia has been paving the way for this transformation and now the Western world is changing both how we shop and how we see social networks. This has enormous implications for brands that, once again, have to adapt their eBusiness strategy, investments and corporate mindset.

Tencent’s WeChat launched in 2011 as an instant messaging service, China’s version of Facebook’s Messenger or WhatsApp. This most popular social network platform in China now boasts a user base of over one billion[1]. However, as time spent on WeChat and social media as a whole is decreasing[2], WeChat has expanded its operation into eCommerce with the launch of mini programs.

One of WeChat’s primary functions – messaging – Sources: BJU International & dangrover.com

The fusion of eCommerce and instant messaging

With a major focus on online shopping, WeChat’s mini programs have revolutionised China’s eCommerce industry. The mini programs act as mini apps that users can access seamlessly without having to download or leave the WeChat platform. Users are able to use the mini programs in the same way they would a mobile app; to catch a ride, order a takeaway, book cinema tickets and order the week’s groceries, for example.

Mini programs from Western world brands on WeChat – Source: WeChat

WeChat’s mini programs are integrated into the existing social network platform, giving sellers access to a massive audience, significantly lowering acquisition costs. This existing user base enables new ways of selling products, such as group buying deals taking advantage of user’s social networks, chat groups and sharing facilities. For example, a cosmetic item might cost 100 RMB, but if you convince friends to buy also, the price could be reduced to 80 RMB, for you and your friends. Companies are also able to  grow their customer base with the advent of livestreaming, where influential bloggers present and review their favourite products within WeChat. The mini programs allow brands and retailers to customise and personalise their stores to better engage and relationship build with consumers.

Closing the loop: the digital wallet

Moreover, all WeChat’s mini programs are connected to the app’s digital wallet, WeChat Pay, giving users the convenience of completing end-to-end mobile purchasing transactions without leaving the WeChat ecosystem, no downloads or separate browsers.

The payment service is also geared up for cross-border payments. In China, worldwide eCommerce is a significant driver of globalisation, the market size for China’s cross-border eCommerce in 2016 was $78.5 billion, which is expected to be $144 billion by 2021[3]. WeChat are hoping to position WeChat Pay as the go-to payment system for offline transactions in Brick&Mortar shops, restaurants, taxis and transport services, etc.

WeChat Social Commerce Report 2018 states, “As social commerce is becoming more common in all cities across China, users see WeChat as a channel for purchasing the most common day-to-day used items. Consumers continue to favor low price value items [with] the average purchase price on WeChat […] around 200RMB”[2].

However, the WeChat Social Commerce Report also highlights that the yearly survival rate of a WeChat store is 40%, meaning that only 2 out of 10 stores will survive after 2 years operation – “the barrier of opening a store is low, but the competition remains intense”[2]. This is sobering news for brands and retailers, and reiterates the need for managers to revisit their strategies and be ready for the changes ahead.

Livestreaming: another trend in the evolution of eCommerce

In the Western world, livestreaming is more popularly recognised with gaming. However, in China livestreaming is big business in online shopping. Influential bloggers and celebrities broadcast live video content, usually reviewing or presenting a product offering whilst responding to questions from a live digital audience. Livestreaming is a major touchpoint for any brand, it offers an efficient and cost effective way to engage and interact with audiences. The objective for many brands is to build communities loyal to their products, livestreaming can help to jump-start building your community.

A Blogger’s mini program shop, where users can buy directly – Source: www.techinasia.com

WeChat’s mini programs have increased the revenue capability for livestreaming as previously, “social media influencers could only direct followers to their online shops through a link at the bottom of blog posts. Through mini programs, sellers can now embed their stores directly inside their article.”[4]  Livestreaming is making influencer marketing more accessible to all and more impactful, building trust and loyalty. Combine this with WeChat’s mini programs, and it’s becoming a more powerful selling tool.

Read our full article about the latest trend of livestreaming in eCommerce.

In conclusion

China’s WeChat has raised the bar for the eCommerce industry, a high standard which the rest of the world must adopt. The integration of social media platforms and eCommerce programs, including digital wallets, is giving consumers access to a quick and simple end-to-end mobile purchasing transaction, without leaving their social media platform. In China, the most common daily products are being purchased on social media networks, and livestreaming is now a major touchpoint for brands.

In Part 2 of our Evolution of eCommerce blog series, we’ll look at some of the recent developments of social media and eCommerce in the Western world, focussing on Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram.

This article was created and written by Luigi Matrone – CEO & Founder of the eBusiness Institute.

At the eBusiness Institute, we have extensive experience of working with numerous brands on their digital transformation. We understand the importance of an optimised consumer experience to drive your brand’s sales online and offline. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you.


[1] https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2019/04/16/why-china-ecommerce-is-going-crazy-for-wechat-mini%E2%80%91programs/

[2] https://walkthechat.com/wechat-social-commerce-report-2018/

[3] https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Cross-Border-Ecommerce-Spending-China-Top-100-Billion-Threshold-2017/1016697

[4] https://www.techinasia.com/wechat-mini-programs-ecommerce


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