WeChat Uses Mini-Programs to Enter Livestream Shopping Arena

    Livestream shopping is a growing trend in China, and one that Tencent has been slow to embrace. Can it catch up through WeChat mini-programs?
    L'Oreal enabled "see now, buy now" shopping on WeChat via mini-program at Cannes. Photo: screenshot
    Yiling PanAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    China's livestreaming industry has grown exponentially over the past few years, as online users fall in love with the social interaction and entertaining engagement the format can provide. Lately, live-streaming has even become an important way for consumers to shop, with major social media and e-commerce platforms like Taobao,, and Weibo leading the trend.

    WeChat, the country's top social media messaging app, seems to fall behind in providing live-streaming shopping options for brands. This is, in part, owing to the nature of its closed ecosystem, that limits the content visibility to users' friends or followers of official accounts. According to the New York-based data intelligence Gartner L2, luxury brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry, and Bvlgari have tried to adopt a "see now, buy now" (or reserve now) format on the app, by featuring videos that are linked to their own site or third-party e-commerce platforms, whilst also making items available on their WeChat account.

    The arrival and quick development of WeChat mini-programs in January last year has empowered the app to rapidly ramp up its live-streaming e-commerce efforts. Mini-programs function as a built-in light web application within WeChat, offering a more seamless way of incorporating instant commerce. "Offering a way to do it ["see now, buy now" e-commerce] through a WeChat mini-program makes the process more seamless, and can better facilitate purchases within the app," said Liz Flora, the editor of Asia Pacific research at Gartner L2.

    The latest notable livestreaming shopping venture by the luxury industry comes from French cosmetics brand L'Oreal. This year, L’Oreal turned the event of Cannes Film Festival into a shopping opportunity for Chinese consumers, enabling themed “see now buy now” live-streaming shopping on a Film Festival WeChat mini-program.

    To attract viewers, L'Oreal collaborated with a number of high-profile Chinese celebrities at Cannes, including Guan Xiaotong and Wang Yuan. The brand live broadcasted the celebrities' red carpet moments and make-up routines, enabling fans to comment directly on the page while watching the videos. For fans who missed the live-streaming sessions, they are able to watch edited videos on the mini-program. Displayed underneath the videos, viewers can see the L'Oreal products the celebrities used. Consumers can then directly place orders on the app. So far, the L'Oreal mini-program has been viewed by nearly three million users.

    Alibaba is Leading the Race#

    For a long time, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has been leading the live-streaming e-commerce business in China. Data released during Alibaba's Taobao Ecosystem Summit in late March shows the number of live-streaming sessions grew 238 percent on a yearly basis, while the sales transactions increased 755 percent in 2017. The platform's live-streaming channel has over 68 million monthly active users with high-purchasing power. One out of two viewers will end up visiting the related store whilst watching a livestream.

    In addition, Alibaba has been developing its content section which featured articles and KOL posts in order to enhance the platform's ability to attract views. Taobao had about 1.6 million content creators in 2017.

    The content strategy has paid off quickly. According to Gartner L2's Beauty China Digital IQ Index, 67 percent of all beauty brands surveyed hosted livestream events on Tmall in 2017, and the viewership of top beauty brands' sessions reached 32.6 million.

    For luxury brands in China, Alibaba's annual "see now buy now" fashion show during the Singles' Day shopping event each November, is also a good opportunity for them to explore this shopping model with Chinese consumers. Over the past three years, luxury brands such as LVMH-owned Guerlain, Rimowa, Furla and Estée Lauder have all participated in the event.

    Can WeChat Catch Up?#

    As a latecomer to the live-streaming e-commerce field, can WeChat disrupt the landscape?

    "We're working on a WeChat mini-app. Testing has begun already, and it should be fully functional by June," said Liyia Wu, the founder and CEO of ShopShops, a live-streaming marketplace that primarily works on Alibaba's Taobao. "I see this as an opportunity for ShopShops, because it’ll take us less time to educate the market."

    However, Wu said a big limitation of live-streaming on WeChat lies in providing a satisfactory user experience for watchers. Another disadvantage, according to Gartner L2's Liz Flora, is the difficulty for brands to promote WeChat livestream sessions on other channels.

    "Weibo, Tmall, and Yizhibo are all part of the same Alibaba ecosystem that would likely encourage posts promoting livestreams on these platforms rather than through anything through competitor Tencent," she said.

    Nonetheless, WeChat’s strong alliances with other e-commerce platforms including,, Pinduoduo, and Mogujie could make it a significant threat to Alibaba’s e-commerce market share. In addition, "WeChat’s massive user base is a magnet for smaller e-tailers looking to find an edge over the market giant," Gartner L2's Liz Flora added.

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