-Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
It maybe somewhat difficult to take me seriously when I have a title as exaggerated as “WeChat: changed my life” But I cannot ignore the fact that WeChat is an innovative invention that has–liter-a-aally changed my life.
Growing up, my greatest social anxiety was: ordering a meal, enjoying a full steak ranch with a drink or two, offering to take the bill and then realizing…
I left my wallet elsewhere–in the car–at home, or perhaps dropped it by the stairs as I entered the restaurant.
You know that moment, when you wish for the ground to swallow you? Feeling busted and accused for having tried to get a free lunch? Its terrifying.
This anxiety charged moment usually ends with me tangled in a greasy, white plastic apron, wiping through a mountain of cold white plates and rickety crockery.
You see, for me.. discovering that I could use my phone to pay for meals, to split the bill, to order a taxi or to quickly transfer money to pay a friend has eased that underlying social trepidation. This means I can walk out of that restaurant with my pride intact having paid with my phone.
WeChat (known as Weixin in China) is a home-grown app, that was released in 2011, by an innovative Chinese Shenzen based firm called Tencent. WeChat started off as a messaging service, similar to America’s WhatsApp, but quickly grew.
What makes WeChat so incredible is the simplicity and ease with which the user can operate the system.
Other convenient opportunities to pay using WeChat include:
- Utilities: scanning and paying your electricity and water bills
- Transfer: sending money to friends by using one click, so you can pay them back or to assist them in paying for a taxi fare or a restaurant bill.
- Going Dutch: splitting a bill at a restaurant or on a food delivery.
- Hongbao, also known as “Lucky Money”: sending a red envelope with money as you would do at a birthday or wedding (Hongbao literally means “red bag”).
- Paying for groceries at stores and at varying shops. Or making a Vending machine payment or paying for a taxi ride. To complete the payment, the user scans the QR (Quick Response) code to transfer the required amount for payment.
The WeChat payment feature makes it a dynamic multi-purpose use application that is so convenient, its literally Life Changing.
Due to the multiple uses of the application a users typical day revolves around WeChat. Such that technode notes that 55.2% of WeChat users open the app atleast 10 times a day.
Image from : blog.wechat.com
The ubiquitous nature of this mobile technology and its permeation into the social life of people is transforming China’s social landscape.
Zheng writes clearly about this growing relationship between mobile technology, national economy and people’s lives and says: “these aspects are getting closer and closer creating enormous social and economic gains.”
WeChat eases the growing gap between businesses by increasing banking inclusion, spurring online commerce and retail and expanding the ease of money circulation.
Though difficult to quantify, I imagine that small businesses have grown tremendously from the QR scan payment system. Think about it… how many more times would you find yourself buying if your messenger application i.e whatsapp allowed you to? No wallet or debit card required. Societally, individuals who do not have cars can use WeChat to make a purchase, subsequently having their goods delivered to their homes. This ease of use is again literally-life-changing, its a Game Changer.
When I think of the many late nights at University, awkwardly trudging around the vending machine, to see if the other guy or girl had coins. So I could ask for coins for my notes and then quickly grab a snack. Discovering this great leap forward with the QR scan code was like-finding–a-treasure box. Imagine-paying on a vending machine using a messenger app?!
5 other ways WeChat is permeating the social & economic life of Contemporary China
1. The digitization of tradition
Distributing gift money in red envelopes on New Year’s Eve (Spring Festival) is a particularly important tradition in China.
In 2014, WeChat successfully promoted the WeChat red envelopes for people to send money to friends and family as gifts via WeChat.
Between 2013 and 2014 over 40 million envelopes were claimed amongst WeChat users. This permeation of a digital product into the tradition and norms of a people makes WeChat dynamic, centered on the people it serves.
2. Building Professional Networks
With the growing number of graduates in China, WeChat
has added a feature that allows users to scan a QR (Quick Response). This quick contact is replacing business cards and can link an individual to a user’s LinkedIn account activating and strengthening professional relationships. Additionally, due to the low data cost, there is greater potential to maintain these professional relationships.
3. Business growth and Public Relations
- Targeted Product Launch: Whilst Chinese customers are scrolling, searching and socializing online businesses can capture a subscriber through targeted marketing. Users can be invited to product launches depending on their browser history and location.
- Sales promotion. For example, a coffee shop can use push notifications to alert app users about special offers when in close proximity of the coffee shop with messages such as (“free coffee today between 11:00-11:30”).
- Collecting Customer Feedback: WeChat is a great platform to collect feedback for customer satisfaction, this can be done via push notifications a day or two after the purchase
- After-sales service: Post-purchase communication and postage updates. An effective way to uphold customer satisfaction.
4. Data Collection to manage credit risk
Internet finance companies have achieved a 1% lending rate for non performance loans for small businesses due to the large data they use to manage lending risk, in comparison to the 2.6% industry rate. Tencent has over 800 million users who use their application for an average of 40 minutes a day. This opportunity can be used for data collection, analysis and ultimately finance reform. A 2014 Mckinsey report estimatted that China’s GDP can potentially increase by up to 1.5 trillion in 2025 if there is an increase in capital finance access for SME’s.
5. Social Capital
WeChat is fostering a community of strong ties associated with frequent contact. Creating opportunities for dynamic social support and contact.
These ties are especially useful for linking people to information about resources outside of people’s local groups, ultimately building social capital.
At a more meet and greet social level the shake feature is worth noting. Upon turning on your location>> a user can shake their phone>> a user can then find other individuals whom have used the shake feature>>> a user can can select an individual from people found>> followed by a “send greeting” to kick start a conversation.
The spill over effects of an application such as WeChat seem incalculable. Ever so often technology finds its place, permeates the social fabric of a society, ultimately altering routines, communication and traditions.
Every so often, myself, Thuthu, Wadeisor and Nothando travel downtown to Sanyuanli market 三源里菜市场 to stock up on juicy fresh fruits, delicious nuts, chocolate cereals and honey pots. Exquisite foods that can only be found at a market.
After a bustling day of being enveloped by vendors on both sides of the two-lane market, grabbing bites, tasting cashews and buying a bountiful of dried fruit, we know its time to head home.
But wait–eish. astonished-uneasy.
I realise, I am out of cash.
Just as my frazzled nerves start to rise. I remember….
I have WeChat. Relief!
So I quickly QR scan for another packet of tortilla chips. We then all gather and swiftly leave the market. I order a cab using WeChat. I pay for it–using WeChat.
Its a Game Changer I tell you. It has–liter-a-aally changed my life.