Chinese messaging giant WeChat* more than doubled revenue generated from transactions through its 'Mini Programs' in 2020—a feature that enables businesses to integrate ecommerce and other services directly into the WeChat ecosystem.
Business interest in the mini apps was rapidly accelerated by Covid-19 as brands looked for ways to derive revenue from consumers online when stores were forced to shut, WeChat said at Open Class PRO 2021, its annual conference for business partners and developers.
"Mini Programs has helped brands and businesses to easily embrace digitalisation and enable direct access to hundreds of millions of stay-at-home consumers during the pandemic," the company wrote in an English-language release following the conference.
A variety of sectors now use Mini Programs to faciliate their services, with transportation, department stores, apparel, and sporting goods leading the growth.
As the variety of Mini Programs grew, users followed—average daily active users exceeded 400 million (as of December 2020) and the number of Mini Programs used per user increased by 25% in the year, the company said.
This spike in users drove up total sales (GMV) to 1.6 trillion yuan (nearly US$250 billion) for the year—which is more than double the value of transactions in 2019, the company said, as the average transaction value increased by 67% year-on-year.
This places WeChat's ecommerce revenue ahead of rival Pinduoduo, which posted 1.46 trillion yuan ($225.7 million) in GMV for the 12-month period ended September 30.
Mini Programs was first launched in 2017. A subset of that offering, 'Mini Games', surpassed 500 million monthly active users in 2020—half of which are women, the company noted.
WeChat, which this week celebrates its 10th anniversary, now counts 1.2 billion monthly active users globally, as of December 2020.
Its success has helped boost parent company Tencent Holding's market capitalisation to US$800 billion (from US$47 billion 10 years ago), making it the largest company in Asia and the sixth-largest globally.
Beyond the success of Mini Programs, WeChat's creator Allen Zhang used his speech at the event to drum up interest in the app's latest bet, its short-video feature, called Channels. The Douyin-esque feature, which allows users to create one-minute videos or post up to nine photos with a short blurb, was announced at the same conference one year ago and went into beta a few weeks later. In July, Zhang said the feature had collected 200 million users. WeChat did not reveal updated figures on the Channels user base, but said it "has been widely adopted by brands and influencers as a fun and creative way to grow their fan bases". Brands that have used Channels include Nio, JD.com and Baidu.
Separately, WeChat's enterprise communication platform, WeCom, reached 130 million monthly active users and is used by more than 5.5 million companies.
* Officially, 'Weixin' is the English name of the China-based app, and 'WeChat' refers to the international version of the app. But this distinction is rarely understood or made clear in English-language press, so we will continue to use WeChat to refer to both the Chinese and international apps.