Apps provide great convenience for mobile shoppers, but retailers struggle to persuade consumers to download their apps.
A new service launched in January by the ubiquitous WeChat mobile social network in China seeks to overcome that hurdle, and last week French handbag brand Longchamp SAS became one of the first brands to use it.
A Chinese shopper can now scan a QR code—either online in a store or on an advertising poster—and be taken to the “Longchamp Customized Boutique shop” within the WeChat mobile app, which 700 million Chinese use to send messages through their phones. Once at the online shop, she can select colors and other features of a Le Pliage Badges handbag and purchase it through her WeChat account for 5,450 yuan ($791).
“In China, WeChat is not only a platform for communication, it also has become a platform for online selling,” says Jean Cassegrain, CEO of Longchamp.
That may be increasingly true if more brands take advantage of the Mini Program technology that WeChat owner Tencent Holdings Ltd, one of China’s largest internet companies, unveiled this year. The service lets a company create what is in effect an app that a consumer can access through WeChat without downloading the company’s app.
The consumer can add the Mini Program from a brand or retailer by going to that company’s WeChat account or—as in the case of the Longchamp program—by scanning a QR code that takes her directly to the brand’s app-like feature, all without ever leaving WeChat.
Observers say this is particularly useful in China, where 85% of mobile phones are based on the Android operating system but where the Google Play app store is blocked by authorities. That forces consumers to obtain Android apps from a variety of app stores operated by other companies. With this Mini Program service, a company can create the kind of service a shopper might find in an app and give her access to it without her having to download a new app.
Longchamp operates 22 stores in China, but has never before sold directly online in the country. To avoid undermining its stores, Longchamp says it will only sell customized products online, while offering standard products through its stores.
“Online is a low-cost channel to attract traffic and also an easier way for us to do branding,” a Longchamp spokeswoman says. “Using a Mini Program, we can easily promote our products through influencers, enabling online shoppers to shop our products while browsing interesting content online.”