How to Sell in China Through WeChat

photo of desk with glasses, smartphone and pencils

WeChat (Weixin in Chinese) is the largest social media app in China. Launched in 2011, it has already grown to over a billion monthly active users, dominating the social media and messaging space in China.

WeChat is now a go-to channel for merchants to promote their brand and sell their products in China. If you want to leverage WeChat to grow your business in China, here's your guide to getting started. 

What is WeChat?

growth of wechat monthly active users over time

WeChat is the largest social app in China. Think of it as a combination of Facebook, Messenger, and Paypal. The app contains three main sections that are particularly important for business owners:

  • WeChat chat interface. A chat interface similar to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
  • WeChat moments. Similar to the Facebook timeline, it is the place where users can post or access news from their friends
  • WeChat wallet. This gives users access to payment services, money transfers, flight and movie tickets, and more.

wechat chat, moments, and wallet

By combining social media, chat, and payment features, WeChat has become a powerful promotional tool for ecommerce businesses selling in China.

But how can you, as a brand, set up your own presence on WeChat? Here are the steps to follow, from setting up your WeChat store to marketing it to WeChat users.

Start selling on WeChat

You can learn more about the integration between WeChat and Shopify by visiting the WeChat sales channel page.

Sell on WeChat

Setting up a brand page on WeChat

Unlike Facebook or Instagram, brand posts on WeChat do not appear on the main social timeline. Instead, they appear in WeChat’s chat interface.

A brand page on WeChat is called a “WeChat Official Account”.

There are two types of WeChat Official Accounts that can be used for marketing:

  1. WeChat service accounts. These accounts appear alongside “friends” for WeChat users. They are extremely visible but are limited to 4 push notifications per month.
  2. WeChat subscription accounts. These accounts can post articles daily (one push notification per day) but are less visible than service accounts. They appear in a “subscription” folder that users have to open in order to see the latest articles.

wechat account types

Both types of accounts let you send an unlimited number of messages to any user who messages the account directly. These messages will be considered “customer service messages” and will therefore not be counted into the account quota. The customer service window lasts 48 hours from the moment the account receives the last message from that user.

Users can then open either a service account or their subscription account folder in order to access articles published by brands.

wechat subscription accounts vs. service accounts

How to create a WeChat Official Account

You can start creating a WeChat Official Account on WeChat by clicking this link and completing the following steps:

  1. Select your country.
  2. Select your account type (in the case of an overseas account, Service Account will be your only option).
  3. Submit the required materials from WeChat.
  4. Confirm your phone number via SMS verification.
  5. Pay the $99 USD verification fee to WeChat.
  6. Receive a verification call from a WeChat representative who will review and verify your application.

Create a WeChat store

WeChat stores are ecommerce experiences embedded within WeChat. A brand can make its products available through WeChat by creating a WeChat store.

wechat store examples

WeChat stores benefit from several unique features:

  • WeChat stores are searchable within WeChat
  • Customers can use WeChat payments to checkout
  • Customers can use WeChat’s one-click log-in to authenticate themselves
  • Your store can pre-fill the user’s shipping addresses stored within WeChat
  • A better integration with WeChat influencer campaigns
  • Influencers can create direct links for a WeChat article to a WeChat store
  • You can offer a native, in-app shopping experience for your customers

In particular, WeChat’s integration with influencer campaigns is one of the main advantages you get with a WeChat store when compared to traditional websites.

WeChat stores seamlessly let users go from content to ecommerce experience

Conversion rates are also much higher as each step on the user path is optimized for WeChat.

This integration between social and ecommerce has been extremely successful in China. In 2018, influencer Becky Li sold 100 mini-coopers within 5 minutes on WeChat!

How to create a WeChat store

WeChat stores are not provided directly by WeChat. In that sense, they are completely different from Facebook Shops or Google Listings. Instead, WeChat provides a toolkit (SDK and API) that enables merchants to create WeChat stores using a special programming language.

The language used to create the WeChat store is a framework based on the ubiquitous JavaScript programming language.

As a merchant, you have two options in order to create a WeChat mini-program store:

  1. Develop a store in-house. In order to do so, you will need a dedicated, most likely Chinese-speaking, development team. This is the path chosen by very large brands or influencers who want to have complete control over their mini-program experience.
  2. Use a Software-as-a-Service WeChat store provider. Many brands will choose a SaaS provider which will enable them to launch a WeChat store faster and at a lower cost. 

WeChat store SaaS providers

The market for WeChat store providers is highly fragmented, with thousands of different players. But a few of them are worth a mention:

  • Youzan. Likely the most famous WeChat store provider, this company operates thousands of stores in Mainland China, from small stores to large enterprises such as DELL. Their WeChat stores offer a wide variety of features, including gamification, group buying, and affiliate sales.
  • Weidian. A more affordable version of Youzan, Weidian stores don’t require a fee to get started (provided you keep the Weidian branding), and you will only have to pay in order to use some of the most advanced features. However, due to its lower price positioning, Weidian also has fewer features than Youzan.
  • Weimob. Another major player in the market, Weimob is more diversified than Youzan or Weidian. Instead of just providing ecommerce stores, Weimob provides a lot of WeChat mini-programs (apps), spanning industries such as hotels, hairdressers, and restaurants. Weimob is, therefore, used by a lot of small- to medium-sized businesses in Mainland China
  • WalktheChatWalktheChat is focused on cross-border WeChat stores (merchants outside China promoting themselves in China). It supports cross-border payments, has an English-language back-end and integrates with Shopify enabling you to synchronize orders, products, and inventory. Disclaimer: The author of this article is affiliated with WalktheChat.

Start selling on WeChat

You can learn more about the integration between WeChat and Shopify by visiting the WeChat sales channel page.

Sell on WeChat

Once you set up your store, you will become visible within WeChat. However, launching a WeChat store is just like launching a website: It won’t get you any sales unless you promote it. Let’s look at a few options to get customers to your WeChat store.

Advertising on WeChat

There are three main types of advertising on WeChat: WeChat Moment ads, WeChat Mini-program ads, and WeChat article ads.

WeChat Moment ads

WeChat Moment ads appear on the main WeChat social timeline (WeChat Moments). They are very similar to Facebook mobile timeline ads.

These ads open a landing page which can then lead to either a website, a Mini-program, or a download page on App stores.

wechat moment ads

These ads are the most visible of WeChat ads. They are, however, also the most expensive, with a CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) of around 65 RMB ($9.1 USD).

WeChat Mini-program ads

WeChat also enables display advertising within WeChat Mini-programs.

In practice, these ads behave like advertising banners on newspapers: the developer of a Mini-program can define locations where they would accept ads to be displayed. WeChat then optimizes the type of ads in order to maximize user engagement, and the Mini-program developer receives a share of the ad revenue.

Mini-program ads can also be displayed as interstitial ads in WeChat games.

The links can take users to a website, another Mini-program, a WeChat Official Account, a WeChat coupon, or a game on the App Store.

wechat mini-program ads

WeChat Mini-program ads are much cheaper than WeChat moment ads, with a CPM around 11 RMB (1.5 USD)

WeChat article ads

WeChat article ads are displayed at the bottom of an article from another WeChat Official Account.

As WeChat Mini-program ads, they behave like advertising banners on websites. Accounts can opt-in for these ads to be displayed, and will then receive a share of revenue.

WeChat article ads can take users to websites, mini-programs, WeChat Official Accounts, App stores or WeChat coupons.

wechat article ads

WeChat article ads are among the cheapest with a CPM of about 6 RMB (0.8 USD)

Comparison of different ads formats

Among these three advertising formats, which are the best for brands? Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • WeChat moment ads stand out with an extremely high CPM. They are however a very powerful way to generate brand awareness. They are the right choice if you want to spread the word about your brand but are not focused on conversions.
  • WeChat Mini-program ads are located in visible locations of WeChat Mini-programs, which are seeing a continuous rise in engagement. They are affordable, and perfect for conversion to either WeChat followers or sales
  • WeChat article ads are the cheapest of all WeChat ad formats, but also the ones with the lowest level of engagement. We recommend them mostly for follower growth campaigns or retargeting

How to open your WeChat advertising account

In order to open your WeChat advertising account, log in to your WeChat Official Account and click on “Advertiser” in the “Promotion” tab of the left menu.

The next page will be displayed in Chinese. You can use Google Translate to translate it to English, and click on the “Advertiser” button.

wechat ads

On the next pages, simply review and accept the terms of use and select your company’s industry to complete the application.

Note that:

  • Accounts in the real-estate, supplements and financial industries will systematically get rejected
  • Accounts in the fashion industry are the most likely to pass the verification
  • If you are unable to pass the verification on your own, you might need to reach out to one of WeChat’s partner marketing agencies in order to help you with the process

Case study: Botkier New York Sells designer bags to the Chinese market

WeChat stores can be powerful tools for new brands to launch in China. They enable a lean approach, at a much more affordable cost than launching on B2C marketplaces such as Tmall or via offline distributors.

Botkier New York is a contemporary accessories line launched in 2003, and a Shopify Plus merchant. Botkier wanted to enter the Chinese market in a lean way by starting with Chinese social media, WeChat and Weibo, and eventually convert traffic into sales.

Botkier launched in China by setting up WeChat and Weibo accounts, a WeChat store, along with sales-driven marketing campaigns on WeChat and Weibo.

wechat marketing campaign

Botkier’s store launched in late August and benefited greatly from their Single’s Day promotion (Single’s Day is the biggest shopping festival on the planet, organized by Alibaba on the 11th of November of each year).

The NYC brand saw tremendous results from their WeChat and Weibo investment:

  • 750,000 users reached during their Single’s Days promotion
  • 960% Return on Investment after 3 months of operation
  • 600% growth of their WeChat followers during their Single’s Day promotion

In order to generate growth, Botkier tapped into the organic interest in their products, and accelerated its momentum via influencer marketing. The combination of a Shopify-integrated WeChat store, targeted gifting to relevant influencers, and high-ROI paid influencer campaigns was the key to Botkier’s success in China.

Sell your products in China through WeChat

WeChat is a powerful ecosystem to launch a brand in China.

By leveraging cross-border payments and influencers, companies can quickly grow their presence in the Chinese market, setting themselves up to expand further through other platform like Tmall of offline distribution partnerships.