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China’s WeChat Revolution

Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. The app is taking over the mobile market, and is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry in various ways.

Manya Koetse

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China has the largest Internet population in the world. Smartphone users make up 81% of this populace. Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. It was launched in January 2011 by Tencent (known by the penguin logo). The core function of WeChat is its messaging function: sending free messages to phone contacts that also use the app. In this sense, WeChat is similar to Whatsapp.

But there is more to WeChat: its success lies its in multifunctionality. WeChat is not just a messenger, it is also a social network, an online wallet, a news source and much more (read our Short Guide to Weixin). With China’s mobile user market exceeding 750 million, Weixin (currently 468 million users) only has more room to grow – a sunny prospect. Longtime Beijinger and specialist on Chinese language and culture, Ryan Myers, explains how WeChat is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry: “WeChat watchers will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

WECHAT THE SUPERAPP

“WeChat is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.”

“Recently I was sitting at a bar with my friends when a nice song came up. I asked for the song’s name, and my friends started shaking their phones to identify it. Music identification is yet another function that WeChat has recently added to its wide range of features. You shake the phone and WeChat recognizes the music. WeChat is all-encompassing. It is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.

Weixin is a perfect tool for both personal and business use. It is easy to set up a Weixin chatgroup to communicate and share files in an educational or corporate setting. Instead of adding individuals one by one through their telephone number, Weixin allows people to join a location-based group through a collective password. As a teacher, I only have to tell students the password and they can then join the classroom-based group, without them becoming my personal contacts. It is perfect because it keeps business and private separate.

The best thing about WeChat is the sheer volume of its plugins, functions and features, which is basically everything anyone could use on a smartphone. Getting a taxi, paying for drinks, organizing work-related meetings, chatting with friends –  I never have to shut the application because it incorporates all I need to use. I don’t even have to worry about backing up my contacts – WeChat automatically does it every month.”

 

GRABBING A CAB THROUGH WECHAT

“WeChat is a total game changer for China’s taxi industry.”

“Lately WeChat/Weixin is used a lot for getting taxi’s. Didi Dache (嘀嘀打车) is a function that is built into WeChat, so you can now get a taxi through WeChat and also pay for it through the app’s wallet function. Customers can order a taxi and indicate how much they want to leave as a tip. Taxi drivers will see the request through the app. Based on the customer’s location and the tip, the taxi driver can decide whether or not he wants to come and pick them up. Socially it is a huge change that drivers are now accepting tips, since tipping used to be very uncommon. It has also affected those who do not use the app, since hailing a taxi on the streets has become increasingly difficult as drivers are more likely to pick up customers through Didi Dache. It is a total game changer for the taxi industry. What is also noteworthy is that all taxi drivers have smartphones now. I got into a taxi the other day and the driver had three smartphones. One of them was running a movie, the other was used for taking calls and the final one was used for Didi Dache to keep track of incoming taxi requests. It is features such as these that make WeChat so influential in China, impacting multiple layers of society. People who closely follow WeChat will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

MOBILE MARKETING

“WeChat has endless possibilities in the field of interactive marketing and business promotion. Companies who do not keep up with it will not make it.”

“It is innovating how companies market their products through WeChat. Even small and simple restaurants now utilize Wechat’s QR codes. Customers can scan them and be part of the company’s ‘fanbase’. In return, they get a discount or a free drink. Wechat is also used for promotion activities in other ways. I hosted a marketing event for my company the other day where a Powerpoint presentation featured a QR code that the audience could scan. Once they scanned it, their names appeared on the screen, connected to interactive racing horses. The people from the audience had to shake their phones in order for the horses to move. Who shook the fastest won, and got a special prize from our company. When it comes down to interactive marketing and business promotion, Wechat has endless possibilities. And this is just the beginning. Companies who do not keep up with these technologies will not make it. Passing on flyers does not work anymore. Businesses need to use mobile marketing through Wechat if they want to be seen.”

 

THE HARMONY OF WECHAT

“Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.”

“Interestingly, the concept of Wechat is in line with the Chinese traditional way of thinking that advocates harmony and the idea of everything, everyone, all together. In Western countries people think in much more individual ways. This reflects in their use of apps; people use different apps for different functions, because it suits their individual needs. They will check the news through Yahoo, message through Whatsapp and talk through Viber or Skype. Wechat has all of these functions under one ‘roof’. In China it is also much more common for a bar to be a restaurant, a study-place, a snooker hall and a shop all in one. From this perspective, Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.

To know more about Wechat, read ‘Introduction to WeChat‘. 

Follow What’s on Weibo on Twitter. 

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands & Marketing

The Price is Not Right: Corn Controversy Takes over Chinese Social Media

It’s corn! The “6 yuan corn” debate just keeps going.

Manya Koetse

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Recently there have been fierce discussions on Chinese social media about the price of corn after e-commerce platform Oriental Selection (东方甄选) started selling ears of corn for 6 yuan ($0.80) per piece.

The controversy caught the public’s attention when the famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi), who has labeled himself as a ‘farmer’s son,’ criticized Oriental Selection for their corn prices.

Founded in 2021, Oriental Selection is an agricultural products e-commerce platform under New Oriental Online. In its company mission statement, Oriental Selection says its intention is to “help farmers” by providing the channels to sell their high-quality agricultural goods to online consumers.

Simba suggested that Oriental Selection was being deceitful by promising to help farmers while selling their corn for a relatively high price. According to Simba, they were just scamming ordinary people by selling an ear of corn that is worth 0.70 yuan ($0.10) for 6 yuan ($0.80), and also not really helping the farmers while taking 40% of their profits.

‘Sales king’ Xin Youzhi, aka Simba, was the one who started the current corn controversy.

During one of the following livestreams, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) – who also happens to be a farmer’s son – responded to the remarks and said there was a valid reason for their corn to be priced “on the high side.” Simba was talking about corn in general, including the kind being fed to animals, while this is high-quality corn that is already worth 2 yuan ($0.30) the moment it is harvested.

Despite the explanation, the issue only triggered more discussions on the right price for corn and about the fuzzy structure of the agricultural e-commerce livestreaming business.

Is it really too expensive to sell corn for 6 yuan via livestreaming?

The corn supplier, the Chinese ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂), is actually selling their own product for 3.6 yuan ($0.50) – is that an honest price? What amount of that price actually goes to the farmers themselves?

‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂).

One person responding to this issue via her Tiktok channel is the young farmer Liu Meina (刘美娜), who explained that Simba’s suggested “0.70 yuan per corn” was simply unrealistic, saying since it does not take the entire production process into account, including maintenance, packaging, transportation, and delivery.

Another factor mentioned by netizens is the entertainment value added to e-commerce by livestreaming channels. Earlier this year, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui and his colleagues became an online hit for adding an educational component to their livestreaming sessions.

These hosts were actually previously teachers at New Oriental. Facing a crackdown on China’s after-school tutoring, the company ventured into different business industries and let these former teachers go online to sell anything from peaches to shrimp via livestreaming, teaching some English while doing so (read more here). So this additional value of livestream hosts entertaining and educating their viewers should also be taken into account when debating the price of corn. Some call it “Dong Yuhui Premium” (“董宇辉溢价”).

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

In light of all the online discussions and controversy, netizens discovered that Oriental Selection is currently no longer selling corn (#东方甄选回应下架玉米#), which also became a trending topic on Weibo on September 29.

But the corn controversy does not end here. On September 28, Chinese netizens discovered that corn by the ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂) was being sold for no less than 8.5 yuan ($1.2) at the Pangdonglai supermarket chain (胖东来), going well beyond the price of Oriental Selection.

Trying to avoid a marketing crisis, the Pangdonglai chain quickly recalled its corn, stating there had been an issue with the supply price that led to its final store price becoming too high. That topic received over 160 million views on Weibo on Friday (#胖东来召回8.5元玉米#).

Behind all these online discussions are consumer frustrations about an untransparent market where the field of agricultural products has become more crowded and with more people taking a share, including retailers, e-commerce platforms, and livestreaming apps. Moreover, they often say they are “helping farmers” while they are actually just making money themselves.

One Weibo user commented: “Currently, ‘helping farmers’ is completely different from the original intention of ‘helping farmers.’ Right now, it’s not about helping farmers anymore, but about helping the companies who have made agricultural products their business.”

“I bought a corn at a street shop today for 4 yuan ($0.55),” one Weibo blogger wrote: “It was big, sweet, and juicy, the quality was good and it was tasty – and people are still making money off of it. So yes, 6 yuan for a corn is certainly too expensive.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Brands & Marketing

How Made-in-China ‘Magical’ Winter Essentials Are Keeping Europeans Warm Amid Energy Crisis

Chinese manufacturers of heating equipment are the “invisible champions” of Europe’s energy crisis.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese companies are profiting from Europe’s energy crisis. Made-in-China electric blankets, electric kettles, sleeping bags, and hot water bottles are flying off the shelves and Chinese factories are working around the clock to meet the demand of European consumers.

“Chinese Electric Blankets Are the Magic Weapon Keeping Europeans Warm This Winter” (#中国电热毯成欧洲人今冬御寒神器#) and “Explosive Sales of Chinese Electric Blankets to Europeans” (#欧洲人买爆中国电热毯#) are among the popular hashtags discussed on Chinese social media this week in light of Europe’s ongoing energy crisis.

Chinese companies are seeing booming sales of winter essentials recently. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is dealing with an energy crisis. Households and businesses across Europe are feeling the pinch: the shortage of natural gas has led to sky-high prices for heating and electricity. The explosions and subsequent gas leaks that occurred on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines on September 26 have only made prospects bleaker.

Looking for creative ways to stay warm and reduce energy bills, made-in-China products are in high demand among European consumers, and Chinese factories are scaling up their production to meet the growing demand.

According to Toutiao News, some manufacturers in Dongguan are seeing the highest sales numbers in half a decade; sales volumes have tripled compared to the same period last year. This requires the factory workers to work in shifts of three so the production can continue around the clock.

Electric blankets are especially popular as they are relatively affordable and more cost-effective as they require less electricity to run compared to electric heaters. Chinese electric blankets are generally cheaper than local options.

Chinese media describe Chinese electric blankets as the ‘magical weapons to defend against the cold’ (“御寒神器”).

The word shénqì (神器), meaning ‘magical tool’ or ‘magical weapon’, is often used to refer to products or objects that provide a simple or smart solution to a pressing problem, such as these paint buckets that became a viral hit during Spring festival travel season; this ‘magical’ device to prevent grannies from dancing underneath your window; or this gadget to take revenge on a noisy neighbor.

 

“Now there’s even a joke saying the Yiwu electric blanket sellers are the ones who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.”

 

Besides electric blankets, other made-in-China ‘magical weapons’ that have become popular amongst European consumers include electric kettles, wearable sleeping bags, thermal underwear, and hot water bottles.

Electronic knee warmer.

As this topic of Chinese winter products “taking over Europe” recently became a hot topic on Chinese social media, some people commented on how the prices for these products were much higher in Europe than in China.

In Europe, a simple rubber hot water bottle is usually sold for around ten euros ($10) while the exact same products are sold for around five to ten yuan ($0.70-$1.5) in China.

In this way, the European energy crisis turns out to be a lucrative one for Chinese businesses. Some bigger companies also manufacturing electric blankets saw their stock prices rise.

One joke circulating on Chinese social media suggests that Chinese electric blanket sellers from manufacturing cities such as Yiwu are the ones who sabotaged the North Stream pipes.

“I never expected China to get part of the profits,” one popular comment said, with the following comment saying: “Thanks to the silly Europeans for making a contribution to our economy!”

“I heard they’re even looking [to buy] our Chinese birthday candles, they’ve gone mad,” one Weibo user wrote, while others jokingly wrote: “We’re the real winners.”

In light of the run on electric blankets, Chinese netizens also came up with some alternative suggestions to stay warm.

“It would be better if they’d wear long underwear pants,” one commenter suggests, while others say that people could just “make love to generate electricity.”

“Use a hot-water bottle and drink lots of hot water,” some write, while others recommend European consumers to buy more hand warmers.

Hand warmer sold on Taobao for 128 yuan ($18).

“I suggest them to buy our Xinjiang cotton quilts, they are sustainable and you can save on energy,” one Weibo user wrote in reference to last year’s Xinjiang cotton boycott.

One Weibo user drew their own conclusion in light of the current developments: “I think we could safely say that the world can do without Russians, but we’ll always need China.”

By Manya Koetse with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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