Fujian province hosted a conference to discuss one of the biggest shifts in Chinese business of the last few years, the rise of "social commerce" via WeChat and similar social media apps, in the coastal city of Xiamen on March 21.
Released by Tencent in 2011, WeChat started as a simple instant messaging app similar to Whatsapp, but has since evolved into an all-encompassing platform combining content publishing, online stores, mobile payment and an array of other features.
As the app established itself as China's dominant social media—WeChat had 700 million monthly users as of March 2016, most of which are based in China, according to Quest Mobile—many entrepreneurs have launched innovative new businesses attempting to unlock WeChat's huge potential as a business and marketing platform.
Xiamen in Fujian province hosts a WeChat commerce networking event on
March 21. [Photo by Yang
Unlike traditional e-commerce, these businesses often rely heavily on building up networks of fans through content marketing and direct contact with their WeChat connections, leading the industry to be dubbed "social commerce".
This nascent industry has grown exponentially in recent years, with an estimated 12.57 million people in China being employed by a WeChat commerce business in 2015, according to the Internet Society of China. This figure is also likely to have grown significantly since then, especially following the launch of WeChat's "mini-apps" in late 2016.
The same report put the market size of WeChat-based social commerce at 181.95 billion yuan ($24.6 billion) in 2015, and estimated that the figure may nearly double in 2016 to reach 360.73 billion yuan.
Fujian province has been central to this online revolution—the southeastern region is the second largest product supplier and third largest consumer for WeChat commerce—and the province aimed to use the conference as a means of ensuring the stable long-term development of the vibrant new industry.
Internet entrepreneur Huang Huan speaks at a WeChat commerce networking
event in Xiamen, Fujian province, on March 21. [Photo by Yang
Themed on "the next decade of WeChat commerce", the Xiamen event brought together traders, internet celebrities, e-commerce thought leaders and industry researchers to review past experiences and envision future business models.
Jian Fangli, director of e-commerce and informatization at China's Ministry of Commerce, also revealed the encouraging news that China plans to draft a law for WeChat commerce and other online services. Up to now, there has been no special legislation to regulate the industry.
The event also featured many product launches and exhibitions, and an award ceremony to honor those who have made great contributions to advance the industry.
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