Does A WeChat Boutique Launch Foreshadow eCommerce’s Future?

The launch on Tuesday (June 19) of a new eCommerce option for shoppers seeking makeup, hair care products, fragrances and similar products represents the expansion of another frontier for online shopping. Feelunique, an online retailer of cosmetics and other items, said that is has become a WeChat Mini Program member. Mini programs essentially function as digital boutiques that reside inside the WeChat app.

“Feelunique is one of the first pure-play cross-border retailers to launch a WeChat Mini Program,” a company spokesman said.

To access the Feelunique mini program, a consumer navigates WeChat’s discover column to the “mini programs” option, and then searches for Feelunique in the search bar before clicking to enter the store. “Browsing the mini program just like browsing Feeluniques’s Chinese web store,” the spokesman said. “You select the products you like, add them to the chart, and pay with WeChat Pay or pay with debt card. Then the transaction is completed.”

WeChat Mini Programs have attracted more than 114 million users since the launch of those stores in January 2017.

“Our Mini Program represents an additional channel to drive consumer acquisition in China,” said Joël Palix, CEO of Feelunique. “It will leverage our existing WeChat presence — which includes an official account with over 100,000 followers and a WeChat store — by enabling customers to complete a purchase within the WeChat ecosystem.”

The WeChat move by Feelunique comes amid increasing attention to embedding eCommerce into larger ecosystems where like-minded consumers might gather. One of main buzzwords associated with this trend is “contextual commerce.” For instance, a consumer reading an article about a celebrity might want to instantly buy the fashion that movie star is wearing — presenting an opportunity for a smart merchant to capture an impulse purchases — or a consumer, inspired by digital word-of-mouth, might feel to sudden urge to buy, say, a beauty or luxury product.

That flavor of commerce is playing out notably in China, its large consumer base and fast-developing digital ecosystem is leading to those types of online services, and not just from WeChat.

Take the RED social app (aka Redbook or Xiaohongshu), which has 60 million users, according to recent article in Jing Daily.

“It is a word-of-mouth marketing platform where consumers can discover and buy international products based on trusted user-generated content, including recommendations and reviews,” the report said. “Its most popular items include foreign cosmetics, beauty supplies, and health products, and they are currently making a push to grow their fashion segment.”

The article described RED as a “true hybrid” of social media and eCommerce.

“While it may look a bit like Western social channels, such as Pinterest and Instagram, unlike these platforms, eCommerce is a central focus on RED and users are able to buy products directly from merchants,” the report said.

Expanding the eCommerce ecosystem is also taking place outside of China, of course. Earlier this spring, for instance, Instagram said it had launched features on its social networking platform that will help users contact companies and enlist them for goods and services. Users will be able to book appointments via Instagram. The company said users can store payment information that would be tied to those activities through “action buttons.” Booking is done through third-party partners, but users will not have to leave Instagram to make those bookings. Current partners include Acuity, ChowNow and Yelp Reservations.

Still, the ongoing evolution of WeChat Mini Programs will merit close attention, in large part because of its scale. According to one report, “Since their launch last year, 580,000 mini programs have cropped up on WeChat. They have a total of 170 million daily active users, according to Tencent.”

Those are a lot of stores, and it seems likely what happens with Chinese eCommerce has a good chance of influencing, directly or indirectly, online shopping practices in the rest of the world.