If you’ve been a regular reader for some time now, you might recall a piece we wrote back in September 2016 on the imminent release of WeChat mini-apps and how they were going to change the world.
It turns out we and most other digital experts completely overestimated the feature as mini-apps have been nothing short of a flop since landing on WeChat in January 2017.
The mini-apps feature, which enables users to access mobile services within the WeChat app, has been largely criticized by app developers and WeChat specialists alike for its limited use cases.
But, despite being labelled a complete failure by WeChat marketers in the press, the mini-apps feature proved this week that it still had a few tricks up its sleeve.
WeChat mini-app stores: Digital business cards
Drumroll please, the following feature might just be the start of the future for WeChat and mobile marketing.
Official accounts registered by businesses, media agencies and other organizations will now be able to create their own mini-app without needing to code or outsource to third-party app developers.
The mini-app itself is basically a digital business card come online portfolio on which official accounts will be able to display images, store addresses and directions, store or business information and so on.
All right, that was pretty anticlimactic, especially after the whole future of mobile marketing thing, but it’s important to wonder why WeChat would release such a future and how it might fit in with the rest of their plans.
Alright, so say you own a PC repair store for instance and you want people to know where to find you.
Creating a WeChat mini-app store (not to be confused with WeChat stores or shops) doesn’t cost you a dime and gives you additional visibility on China’s most popular mobile app.
So that for one is good news for official accounts but what’s really groundbreaking about it is that WeChat seem to want to leverage this brand new feature to accomplish two major objectives:
1) Promote the usage of WeChat mini-apps in general
2) Bridge the gap between online and offline channels (display online information to guide users to purchase offline)
Bridging the gap between online and offline
Those of you who’ve been following WeChat closely may have seen a video uploaded to Tencent’s video platform in April in which a user catches mini-apps in the street using augmented reality.
While we can only speculate for the moment, WeChat could potentially display the digital business cards of offline stores out there in the wild for WeChat users to access through augmented reality.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, we’ve been disappointed by WeChat before and not everyone’s all that excited about WeChat mini-app stores.
Some experts say this new feature offers zero additional value to what’s already available for official accounts and that seeing as users will have to access the mini-app somehow, whether it’s by search, in their saved or recent apps, mini-app stores are no more convenient or easier to access than official accounts.
They have a point of course, and WeChat certainly have the means and ambition to expand the feature’s capabilities beyond displaying information and photos, but this may in fact be a turning point for Tencent if they do indeed plan on using these digital business cards as an O2O marketing method / AR feature.
In its current form, WeChat’s newly-released mini-app store feature is slightly short on value, but let’s not forget it’s free, requires zero development skills and is only a few weeks old.
What’s so exciting about this feature, for the optimistic technophiles out there, is that it might just be the signal for Tencent’s biggest ever O2O push.
Look out for WeChat mini-app stores and let us know what you think. A stroke of genius or a waste of space? Time will tell. And we’ll be watching.