WeChat was launched in 2011 as Weixin – Mandarin for ‘micro-message’. As the name suggests, it originally functioned as a simple messenger app – a Chinese equivalent to WhatsApp in essence.
WeChat was developed by and belongs to Chinese tech behemoth Tencent Holdings –one of the most valuable companies in the world, worth well over $500 billion as of mid-May 2020. Other names in the Tencent stable include QQ Messenger and Riot Games (League of Legends), among many others. It also holds various significant stakes in other international app names (Snapchat, Fornite).
Tencent was reportedly on the brink of purchasing rival popular messaging app WhatsApp in 2014. An untimely surgery for CEO Pony Ma, however, allowed a panicked Mark Zuckerberg to get in there first.
Like WhatsApp, the WeChat app has evolved considerably since those early days. Video clips and functionality to find other users followed, then voice and video calls, as well as Facebook-like Moments feed. WeChat’s development would grow more innovative after this. Leveraging Tencent’s involvement in gaming (which would get deeper in years to come), it added games integration, and presciently, it also moved into the digital payments field – an area in which WhatsApp is trying to follow in the Indian market.
We can also add shopping, the ability to hail taxis (through Didi Chuxing), and mini brand apps run entirely within WeChat. In short, WeChat’s range of services give it the functionality of a whole suite of apps for its huge userbase. Indeed, its reach is so complete in China that it is even used to facilitate communication between judges and litigants in Chinese court cases and for the citizens of Guangzhou to store their ID cards.
Its userbase grew alongside functionality. Within 14 months it had climbed to 100 million registered users; six months later this had doubled. Eventually the WeChat app overtook the then dominant Weibo, climbing today to over one billion monthly active users, a figure which continues to edge upwards. In 2019, it crossed the same threshold for daily active users.
Tencent’s ambitions lay beyond just China – hence the rebrand to the more internationally-friendly name ‘WeChat’. In 2012, several new languages were added – mostly focused on SE Asia, though the inclusion of Portuguese suggested wider ambitions than China’s neighbours to the south. In markets where Facebook and Twitter are active – thus excluding the home market – users are able to sync up contacts from the aforementioned apps with WeChat, to encourage uptake.
This push was not considered to be a success – India, where WhatsApp remains the most-popular messaging app, is one high profile example – despite a concerted push into the still nascent market in 2012, alongside several SE Asian markets. International user numbers were pegged at 100 million in 2013. An impressive figure at the time, though the lack of any updated figure since suggests stagnation. Indeed, despite being one of the world’s biggest apps, many in the West could be forgiven for asking, “What is WeChat?”
The app has faced controversy over censorship issues – both within China and outside, with political content and ‘vulgar’ content blocked. Inevitably for an app in control of so much user data, there have been questions over data security also.
It remains, however, a central cog of Chinese digital life.
Below the contents, you’ll find some key WeChat user and revenue figures. Use the contents menu or scroll further down for more in-depth analysis, including more about WeChat user growth, the role it plays in multiple facets of society, and why it has Apple worried.
Table of Contents
|People||Allen Zhang (founder, president of Weixin Group)|
|Company type||Public (SEHK:700, OTC:TCEHY)|
Key WeChat User Statistics
|Q1 2012||50 million|
|Q1 2013||195 million|
|Q1 2014||396 million|
|Q1 2015||549 million|
|Q1 2016||762 million|
|Q1 2017||938 million|
|Q1 2018||1.04 billion|
|Q1 2019||1.10 billion|
|Q2 2019||1.12 billion|
|Q3 2019||1.13 billion|
|Q4 2019||1.15 billion|
|Q1 2020||1.17 billion|
Key WeChat Usage Statistics
|Daily messages sent on WeChat|
|~Nov 2016||~30 billion|
|Nov 2017||38 billion|
|January 2019||45 billion|
|WeChat mini programs daily transactions|
|January 2015||16 million|
|January 2016||180 million|
|January 2017||500 million|
|January 2018||910 million|
|January 2019||1.1 billion|
Source: Walk the Chat
Key WeChat Financial Statistics
|WeChat and other Tencent social media revenue|
|FY 2015||24.1 billion RMB*|
|FY 2016||37 billion RMB|
|FY 2017||56.1 billion RMB|
|FY 2018||72.7 billion RMB|
|Q1 2019||20.5 billion RMB|
|Q2 2019||20.8 billion RMB|
|Q3 2019||22 billion RMB|
|Q4 2019||22 billion RMB|
|FY 2019||82.3 billion RMB|
*As of May 2020, conversion rate of $1 = 7.09 RMB; 1 RMB = $0.14.
|FY 2015||102.9 billion RMB*|
|FY 2016||151.9 billion RMB|
|FY 2017||237.8 billion RMB|
|FY 2018||312.7 billion RMB|
|Q1 2019||85.5 billion RMB|
|Q2 2019||88.8 billion RMB|
|Q3 2019||97.2 billion RMB|
|Q4 2019||105.8 billion RMB|
|FY 2019||377.3 billion RMB|
*As of May 2020, conversion rate of $1 = 7.09 RMB; 1 RMB = $0.14.
|Tencent operating profit/net profit|
|FY 2015||40.6 billion RMB/29.1 billion RMB|
|FY 2016||56.1 billion RMB/41.4 billion RMB|
|FY 2017||90.3 billion RMB/72.5 billion RMB|
|FY 2018||97.6 billion RMB/80 billion RMB|
|Q1 2019||36.7 billion RMB/27.9 billion RMB|
|Q2 2019||27.5 billion RMB/24.7 billion RMB|
|Q3 2019||25.8 billion RMB/21 billion RMB|
|Q4 2019||30.3 billion RMB/25.5 billion RMB|
|FY 2019||114.6 billion RMB/94.4 billion RMB|
Other Key WeChat Statistics
- WeChat reported reaching 1 billion daily active users in January 2019 (ZDNet)
- WeChat the fifth most-used social app in the world (Hootsuite/We Are Social)
- WeChat penetration in China among 16-64 year olds 78% in 2020, down from 79% in 2019; second place Sino Weibo has 56% penetration (Hootsuite/We are Social)
- WeChat 10th most downloaded app in China as of January 2020, falling from fifth in January 2019 (Hootsuite/We are Social)
- Over 20 million active ‘official accounts’ as of early 2019 (SCMP)
- In Q4 2019, WeChat reported a 15% year-on-year increase in daily messages sent increased (Tencent)
- 410 million audio and video calls per day on WeChat (ZDNet)
- 46TB of data consumed on WeChat over one minute of the morning rush hour (TechNode)
- WeChat accounts for 34% of total mobile data traffic in China (Walk the Chat)
- Around 30% of mobile internet time in China is spent on WeChat (CNBC)
- 10 billion hits on WeChat Moments every 24 hours (TechNode)
- 83% of WeChat users use the general app for work (ChinaChannel)
- Average user had 194 contacts (as of 2016) (ChinaChannel)
- 250,000 users use WeChat to access bus/metro services every minute during the morning rush hour (TechNode)
- Peak WeChat usage times at 9pm (official accounts) and 8pm (mini games) (China Internet Watch)
- Daily active WeChat mini programs users at over 300 million in 2019 (China Internet Watch)
- WeChat mini program monthly active users at 746 million in June 2019 (Walk the Chat)
- Average number of mini programs used per user doubled over 2019, with usage increasing by 45% (China Internet Watch)
- WeChat mini programs generated 800 billion RMB in 2019, with average daily transaction volume doubling year-on-year (Walk the Chat)
- Over 1 million WeChat mini programs by the end of 2018 (TechCrunch)
- 2,000 mini games available on WeChat (WeChat)
- 400 million monthly players of WeChat mini games (The Verge)
- Mini games account for 33% of the top-100 mini programs, with 81% of mini programs users playing a game (China Internet Watch)
- Top WeChat mini games played by over 100 million users (Walk the Chat)
- As of mid-March, 300 million WeChat users used WeChat Health to access pandemic updates, online consultation, and AI-powered self-assessment related to the coronavirus outbreak (Tencent)
- At the same point, coronavirus-related content had attracted 600 million page views on WeChat and Tencent News (Tencent)
- WeChat Moments counts 750 million daily users (TechNode)
- WeChat Work used by 2.5 million companies and 60 million MAU (China Internet Watch)
- 800 million users of WeChat Pay on a monthly basis in Q4 2019 (Tencent)
- Tenpay market penetration at 84% (includes other Tencent payment apps), though AliPay has a higher transaction volume (Dragon Social)
- Tenpay claimed 39.5% market share of third-party payments in Q3 2019 (iResearch)
- 1 billion WeChat Pay commercial transactions per day in Q4 2019 (Walk the Chat)
- 72 million businesses registered to WeChat Pay in 2019 (China Internet Watch)
- 50 million monthly active merchants on WeChat Pay in Q4 2019 (Tencent)
- 100 million users of credit rating system WeChat Payments Score within a year of launch (China Internet Watch)
- 8 billion visits to WeChat visits by users getting ‘health codes’ needed to travel around China during the coronavirus pandemic, as of mid-March (Reuters)
- 820 million users sent or received a Chinese New Year red package over WeChat in 2019 (Straits Times)
- WeChat drove $50 billion into the Chinese economy in 2017 (CAICT)
- Tencent social network revenue totalled 83.2 billion RMB in 2019
- Total Tencent revenue for 2019 was 377.3 billion RMB
- As of Q4 2019, 21% of Tencent revenue was generated through its social networks (WeChat, QQ, and Qzone), with the total figure for 2019 at 23% (Tencent)
- Tencent market cap $537 billion in mid-May 2020 (Yahoo Finance)
WeChat User Statistics
WeChat counts over one billion active monthly users – a threshold it crossed in the early days of 2018. As of Q4 2019, it counted 1.17 billion users in all. In a league table of the world’s most popular messaging apps, this puts it behind only WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and fifth overall in terms of social media.
The fastest levels of growth were seen between 2014 and 2016. Growth over 2018 seems to have slowed, though not to a great degree. This is perhaps to be expected. Thought its userbase extends beyond the domestic market, as it stands, WeChat’s market penetration is close to complete in China, as detailed below (counting international users, the WeChat monthly active user count is only 300 million fewer than the entire population of China, it should be noted).
It is hard, therefore, to see how much more it could possibly grow without a more successful international push than we have seen to date. At present, We Are Social/Hootsuite find that WeChat is only the number one in app in three countries (this does not include Taiwan or Hong Kong – according to AppAnnie it is the sixth-most and second-most downloaded app in these territories, and the sixth-most and the third-most used app, respectively; it is the fifth-most used, and 10th-most used in Malaysia).
Some estimates peg international WeChat user numbers at between 100 and 200 million. Tencent is reticent to provide user numbers broken down by country.
WeChat monthly active users, million
Tencent announced in early 2019 that daily active users of the app had climbed to over one billion. To out that a little into perspective, that’s roughly the population of the entire Americas. Only Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger can claim a greater share of global usage.
It might be worth noting that the numbers WeChat publicise tend to refer to accounts rather than users. One user might use multiple accounts – though that does not greatly detract from the heft of these numbers.
In a chart published in July 2017, eMarketer pegged mainland Chinese monthly active WeChat smartphone user numbers at a little under 500 million They predicted the number of Chinese WeChat users would rise to 675 million by 2021.
The real story, however, comes from the stunning penetration levels – already at a stratospheric 79% of smartphone users, and 85% of messaging app users, eMarketer predicts we’ll see any even higher levels of 82% of smartphone users and 89% of messaging app users in the years to come.
Projected user growth and penetration in China
In January 2019, Hootsuite and We Are Social put the current number of mobile social media users in China at 1.007 billion, with mobile subscriptions at over 1.5 billion, outstripping the country’s total population (97% of the population have mobile phones, and 83% smart phones). The former represents a 10% increase over 2018, the latter 9% – showing that despite high levels of penetration, the market continues to grow apace.
The same report also pegs current WeChat app penetration at 79%, with Baidu Tieba (72%) and QQ (68%) not a huge distance behind.
Chinese social app penetration
Source: We Are Social/Hootsuite
WeChat does not top the most-downloaded list, however – quite possibly because it has been downloaded and installed so many times already. In January 2019, it lagged in fifth place, with the global app of 2018, TikTok, topping the chart. As of April 2020, it had fallen to 10th.
Top Chinese mobile apps by downloads
Source: We Are Social/Hootsuite
WeChat does not make the top-10 mobile apps in terms of revenue, with stablemate Tencent Video in front here. QQ an QQ Music also make the list, as does karaoke app WeSing (finding precise revenue for many of these apps can be difficult it must be noted, with Tencent not tending to release by-app data – the source here uses App Store and Google Play data).
Speaking to the FT, Matthew Brennan, the founder of consultancy ChinaChannel (which focuses on WeChat), posited that much of the growth that we’ve seen over the past couple of years came from international markets – chiefly in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US. Much, he continues, is likely to be from the Chinese diaspora aiming to stay in touch with those back home.
Further international growth is unlikely to be fostered by news such as the University of California warning its students not to use WeChat in China, as posts could be used against them by edgy authorities.
Peak WeChat usage occurs in the 26-35 age group, as tends to be the case across messenger apps. It has not been ever this; there has been a shift over time – with the peak shifting from the previously dominant 18-25 to the 26-35 group between 2015 and 2017.
We also see a higher proportion of older age groups using WeChat, across the board. Notably the proportion of users in the 36-50 age bracket is not too far off matching 18-25 year olds.
Age distribution of WeChat users
Source: Walk the Chat
It’s certainly not all about young users. Indeed, 63 million WeChat users above the age of 55 open their account at least once a month (in all China has 241 million citizens over the age of 60 – or 17% of the total population).
Indeed, if we look to the proportion of data usage accounted for by the WeChat app, we might note that the older users get, the greater the proportion of data usage expended on WeChat.
Of the 60+ WeChat demographic, for instance, 61% of users reportedly use more than half of their total mobile data usage on WeChat. For 36-60 year olds, the proportion is a shade under 50%. On the other hand, only 14% of under-18s, or 25% of 18-35s can report the same.
WeChat clearly serves a more prominent part in the lives of older users than other apps favoured by younger ones.
WeChat data usage by age group
Source: Walk the Chat
WeChat statistics covering the Chinese New Year period in 2018 found that those born in the 90s accounted for the greatest share of messages.
Chinese New Year 2018: age demographics of active WeChat users
Data source: ChinaChannel
Older users are reportedly keen users of ‘mini programs’ – that is native mini apps that can be built within WeChat.
Tencent themselves carried out study alongside a team from Shenzen University to measure usage levels among the over-55 demographic, surveying over 3,000 older Chinese citizens, only 10% of whom came from top-tier (i.e. the most populous cities).
In the below chart, the top row shows age, the middle earnings in RMB (2,000 RMB is about $300), and the last educational attainment. We see familiar app trends here, as usage levels are more concentrated in those who are younger, earn more money, and are educated to a higher level.
WeChat usage levels among over 55s
What’s notable here is, given the age group in question, is how high the usage levels reported are. Above 50% for the under-70s, and not quite tailing off until we get to the over 80 demographic – where usage levels are still relatively high, considering.
We see even the lowest income bracket reporting usage of a third. Perhaps the most significant factor is educational attainment, where those who were not able to pursue anything beyond compulsory education report notably low usage levels, compared to those who are able to progress further.
Without the ability to cross reference this with other indicators, we can only speculate, but it may be that this less-educated bracket is roughly analogous with the oldest age bracket – with opportunities for and commitment to higher education progressively increasing in China over the decades.
The study found that on average these users had 104 WeChat friends, 23% of whom were family members, showing the benefits of social connectivity in maintaining a wider contact network for older people – indeed the study found (perhaps predictably, given it was commissioned), that WeChat was connected with the happiness of older users.
It’s not just about staying in touch with family and friends, however; 75% of WeChat users over the age of 55 read subscription articles, 62% share them, and over 50% used payment app WeChat Pay. This market of silver surfers can clearly be of value to brands and media outlets, then.
WeChat released figures revealing users’ favourite emoji by age group. Younger users, born this side of the millennium, most-frequently use the ‘facepalm’. ‘Crying with laughter’ tops the list for 90s kids, a grin for those born in the 1980s, which develops into a fully-fledged chuckle for users born in the 70s. Over-55s most-commonly use the thumbs-up.
The revelation of these preferred emojis led to concerns over levels of data security.
Finding up-to-date information on WeChat demographics can be a tricky task. The latest reliable gender breakdown of WeChat app users seems to date back to 2015 – since when we know a lot of developments have occurred.
These figures show a ratio of nearly 2:1 in favour of male users – perhaps to be expected in China’s rather patriarchal society, though perhaps not tarrying with the app’s ubiquity.
WeChat users by gender
The largest share of WeChat users are employed in the private sector or are self-employed/freelance, according to the same study. These two sectors alone account for around 60% of users (or did at the time). Students and public sector workers accounted for another 30%.
WeChat users by occupation
WeChat for brands
WeChat has become as much a place to do business as a social media app.
A solid proportion of users of WeChat official accounts report being able to cut costs through their usage of the platform, as opposed to using propriety apps. 83% were satisfied with their use of WeChat.
WeChat official accounts usage
Source: Walk the Chat
In September 2018, it seems WeChat reduced the barriers to non-Chinese businesses opening business accounts on the platform. Whereas previously international businesses had to operate through a domestic intermediary, they are now able to directly assume control of accounts targeting the Chinese market.
Mini programs are one of the key channels through which brands can reach prospective customers through WeChat – marrying the benefit of a ready-made audience with the streamlined cost and process of these versus a full-blown app. In 2019, WeChat mini programs were used by 746 million MAU, and 300 million MAU. Over 1 million mini programs had been developed by the end of 2018.
It was reported in 2018 that the average user opens four mini programs daily. The average number of mini programs opened per day doubled over 2019, with overall usage increasing by 45%.
These can be longstanding or temporary. For instance, TechNode reports that luxury brands (Burberry, Gucci, Dior, etc) establish mini programs tied in with campaigns and special offers for Qixi – the Chinse equivalent of Valentine’s Day. According to the annual CAICT (China Academy of Information and Communications Technology) WeChat report, around two thirds of users believe mini programs are more convenient than traditional apps; with a similar percentage believing they could take their place.
A Jisu App survey breaks down mini programs by sector, finding that clothes and shoes is comfortably the largest – accounting for nearly a third. This is followed by what would appear to be a quirk of the Chinese market: fresh fruit and vegetables (it is hard to imagine this category accounting for close to one in five apps in North America or Europe). Whether this is driven by those in cities who are not able to easily access these vitamin-rich goods, or those in rural settings who are simply using WeChat to carry out their traditional business is unclear. Living goods and transport come in third place.
WeChat mini programs by sector
The fastest growing categories, according to Newrank and Youzan, are not dissimilar, with women’s clothes, cosmetics, and health topping the list. Fashion also leads the way in terms of content, followed by travel and news.
Fastest growing categories
Source: Walk the Chat
76% of WeChat mini programs are connected with an official company account.
The highest levels of WeChat mini program traffic are reported by lifestyle services, at 264 million (over July 2018). This is followed closely by 252 million for e-commerce, and 234 million for travel.
Mini program traffic by sector
Source: Jing Daily
Spending levels on mini programs are fairly robust, with over a third of users spending 501-1,000 RMB (roughly $75-150) per month. A similar proportion spend a slightly lower 201-500 RMB ($30-$75). A greater proportion can be found spending in excess of 1,000 RMB than spend under 200 RMB.
According to We Are Social and Hootsuite, the average annual ecommerce spend per capita in China comes to $787.
WeChat mini program spending levels
Another source finds that the average value of a single transaction on WeChat stands at a shade over 200 RMB (around $30).
Average WeChat purchasing point
Source: Walk the Chat
The source also identified the top-selling items over the first half of 2018; the combination of shower brushes, women’s underwear, fruit, English classes, and beer we find in this list speaks of both the variety and everyday nature of WeChat shopping.
Alongside the everyday, we see surges in WeChat mini program shopping over particular periods, such as the 618 mid-year shopping festival (actually created by Alibaba in first decade of the 2000s). As contrived as the festival is, one can’t argue with a 66% increase in sales – driven by 53 million new mini program users over this 18 day period (1-18th June in 2018).
WeChat mini program trends over 618
Source: Jing Daily
Retention rates for WeChat mini programs are seemingly on the up, with 2018 figures three or four times as high as 2017 (after the first month, at which point they’re still twice as high) several months down the line. Figures are drawn from ALD – a WeChat mini program research agency.
WeChat mini program retention rate
Figures from Newrank and Youzan find that the survival rate for WeChat stores stands at 40% per year.
We also see a shift in terms of the age of those using mini apps. This, interestingly, goes against the general trend for the age of WeChat app users. In 2018 it seems the share of WeChat mini program users belonging to the youngest demographics went up. The proportion of users (note – not the absolute number of users, which we can safely assume climbed) in nearly every bracket above the age of 25 declined. This is with the notable exception of the 30-39 age group, which in fact overtook the 25-29 grouping as the most prominent users.
There is not a great deal in it, however, with something of a plateau for users belonging in the three brackets between 18-39.
WeChat mini program user age demographics
Brands’ presence on WeChat can open new markets. For instance, the ability to communicate with brands using messaging rather than emails is favourable to those outside of the bigger cities, who are unaccustomed to using emails, say experts. Voice messaging adds another layer of usability.
Newrank and Youzan found that the proportion of WeChat commercial activity attributable to those living in ‘tier 1’ cities (the most-populous) declined between 2017 and 2017. Tier 2 cities claimed a bigger share in 2018, as did cities and towns below the top two tiers, which now account for a little over half of WeChat ecommerce activity (it is unclear whether this refers to the value of purchases or volume). In 2017, tiers 1 and 2 accounted for 51%.
Distribution of WeChat ecommerce activity by city tier
Source: Walk the Chat
A new feature introduced in early 2019 essentially creates a new home screen within the WeChat app – which will bring mini programs increasingly to the fore. It has been speculated that will be problematic for Apple in particular, with Chinese users becoming more reliant on the WeChat ecosystem at the expense of Apple’s suite of services. Indeed, it has even been said that WeChat serves more as an operating system than any sort of traditional app in China.
As valuable a tool as WeChat can be for brands, that doesn’t mean anything they put up on there will be devoured by a grateful captive audience. Indeed, of the 14 million official accounts that were active as of late 2017, only 7% could lay claim to any posts that attracted over 1,000 views. And only 0.01% achieved more than 100,000 views for any single post (see more on content read rates in WeChat Usage Statistics). The number of official accounts had risen to 20 million by early 2020.
5.4 million of these profiles had published content in the three-day period before the snapshot used in the survey was taken.
Previous studies have found a downward trend in the average follower count for official accounts, proportionally speaking at least. Between 2016 and 2017, we saw the number of accounts with fewer than 10,000 followers increase to over three quarters. A paltry 6% manage over 100,000, with all brackets above the lowest losing percentage between the two years.
A proliferation of official accounts is the likely culprit here. These are percentage shares and not absolute numbers it should be noted – it could be that absolute numbers are up. Nonetheless, it shows that competition for eyeballs is high.
Followers: WeChat official accounts
The types of official accounts that users are most likely to follow are related to interests & hobbies and news & information.
What sort of official accounts do users follow?
People follow official accounts for a number of reasons, found a 2015 report – ergo dating to before the point of official account oversaturation. Tarrying with the above findings, getting information tops the list, followed by complementing of users’ lifestyles. These two options accounted for more than 75% of the userbase.
Why people follow official accounts
Censorship issues extend to brand posts. 1.6% of brand posts are reportedly removed after posting.
The mobile payments market has taken off in a big way in China. One 2017 survey found that 92% of people in China’s biggest cities use top payments apps Tencent’s WeChat Pay (part of Tenpay – most of the following stats refer to Tenpay rather than WeChat Pay specifically, but we don’t get broken out figures) or Alipay from Tencent rival Alibaba as their primary method of payment. It’s not just limited to the cities though; by the end of 2017, 47% of China’s rural community used digital payment services. In all, mobile payments transactions over 2017 were worth $16 trillion (109 trillion RMB).
According to Business Insider in 2018, no fewer than 900 million people use WeChat Pay on a monthly-basis. Tencent gave us a lower 800 million in Q4 2019.
This compares to a relatively paltry 127 million users of Apple Pay. The iResearch Consulting Group estimates that WeChat Pay holds 39.5% market share as of Q3 2019, behind Alipay’s 54.5%.
As of Q4 2019, Tencent stats tell us that 1 billion WeChat Pay transactions take place per day. A total of 72 million merchants are registered with the payment app, 50 million of which were active in this quarter.
An earlier survey conducted by Ipsos and pertaining to the third quarter of 2018, shows Tenpay edging out into the lead in terms of penetration at least (Tenpay also incorporates payment apps incorporated into other Tencent-owned media – most notably, QQ).
By this measure, Tenpay is comfortably in the lead over its chief rival. The top-two payments apps are leagues ahead of anyone else, with the next highest penetration standing at 11.6% (China Unionpay Quick Pass), compared to Alipay’s 63.6% and Tenpay’s 84.3%. Penetration is not the same as usage, however.
Payment app market penetration
Source: Dragon Social
Splitting WeChat users into young and silver-haired users (that is the over-60s), we see that penetration among younger users is nearly absolute, more than doubling in the two years between 2015 and 2017. While growth has not been as rapid among older users, it’s still notable that nearly half of this generation – who grew up in an age of paper money (the credit card was introduced to China in 1986) – now are happily using a phone app to make payments. It is hard to imagine this level of penetration in a European or North American market.
WeChat Pay penetration by age group
Source: Walk the Chat
A survey conducted by Tencent looked the leading reasons that people chose to use mobile payments apps. Speed and ease, predictably, come out on top, though the proportion of those who simply do not carry cash is also worth noting, at 45%. Whether this is a cause or effect of payment apps is not clear.
Chinese mobile-payment app user motivation
WeChat Pay users have also been asked in what situations they utilised the app.
In 2016, the most popular option by some way for users of the payment app were purveyors of everyday items: supermarkets and convenience stores, followed by the purveyors of everything else that fall under ‘online shopping’. Restaurants & food and malls closely followed, with smaller percentages using WeChat Pay for various bits of life administration.
A wide variety of options were elected by relatively similar proportions of users. This clearly suggested that there is clearly a level of divergence over what constitutes an appropriate context for using WeChat Pay.
In 2017, we see huge increases across the board. Supermarkets & convenience stores extend their lead by some way, with over three quarters of users using WeChat Pay in this context. Food also creeps over the 50% mark to become a majority concern (presumably this refers to eating out/takeaway). While online shopping comes in third place, at 45%, proportionally bigger increases occur in the travel, entertainment, and utilities categories – all of which more than double (or even triple).
The conclusion? WeChat is mostly for buying essentials, but also for a little bit of everything else!
WeChat Pay contexts for usage
Even the tradition of passing on money in red packages to wish the receiver good wishes over Chinese New Year has been digitised; 80% of mainland Chinese said they were happy using WeChat’s specially designed functionality to do this, compared with 69% who would use the traditional red lai see. In 2018, 768 million people either sent or received a red package over WeChat – a 10% increase over 2017. This increased further to 820 million in 2019.
In 2018, one particularly generous soul from Chongqing sent 2,723 lai see, while one lucky man from Nanchang received 3,429, over the payment app.
WeChat Pay’s reach extends beyond the borders of China – being accepted by merchants in 25 countries. This is not necessary to target these as markets in their own right, but as markets where Chinese tourists might be found visiting. There are no ambitions to extend payments wallets beyond Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Travelling Chinese tourists, however, are a big market in themselves. Notably, between 2016 and 2017, 20% of payments made by Chinese tourists visiting Japan were made over WeChat Pay. The peak values of single-day transactions was over 60 times higher than the preceding year, with 35 times more stores accepting payment over WeChat Pay.
The US has been earmarked as a market for further expansion of WeChat Pay. Chinese tourists spent an average of nearly $4,500 while travelling to the US in 2017, so it’s certainly a lucrative one. And with only 28% of payments taking place on mobile payment apps over that period, it’s a market that’s very much up for grabs.
WeChat and Alipay looked set to lose $1 billion between them as a part of new central bank requirement that all customer funds are held in reserve, and not used as investments, passed in June 2018 (and active as of January 2019). This marks a steady increase in the amount banks are required to hold in a custodial account (on which no interest can be paid), from 20% in January 2017, to 50% in April 2018. “The era of free money is over,” said the FT of this. Said changes had been anticipated and do not come out of the blue.
Data from WeChat Pay is shared with Tencent’s credit-scoring business, Tencent Credit – highlighting once again the tremendous reach of the app into every aspect of life. Later, we saw this become WeChat Payments Score, used by 100 million people within one year of launch.
Alongside everything else, WeChat users can use the app to play mini games, essentially a type of mini program. These are simple small games, with a maximum file size of 8MB – up from an initial 4MB.
By August 2018, there were 2,000 mini games in existence. These games are extremely popular. During the Chinese New Year period in 2018, at one stage 28 million WeChat users played a mini game within the space of a single hour. WeChat report a total mini game user base of 300 million.
Six of the top-10 mini programs were, in fact, mini games. They account for 33% of the top-100 mini programs – increasing from 3% in September 2017. China Internet Watch report that 81% of mini program users have played a mini game.
The biggest games attract in excess of 100 million monthly users. Haidao Laile! is one such game, with 20 million daily players. Haidao Laile! is developed by Hortor Games, which alongside Aiwei Games is one of the leading developers of mini games. WeGoing also commands 100 million users, WeChat announced at a conference in San Francisco in November 2018.
Tiao Yi Tiao, from Tencent – a clone of a failed 2016 mobile game from French developer Ketchapp – was attracting 100 million daily users as early as January 2018. Interestingly for anything in the gaming world, 50% of these users were female. The game also seemed to appeal to non-core gamers, with 41% of users claiming to be ‘casual gamers’ and a further 21% ‘non-gamers’.
Tiao Yi Tiao stats
Source: Walk the Chat
These mini games can be a healthy source of revenue for developers. Ad revenue is shared 50:50 for games with 1,000 users, and 70:30 in the developer’s favour for those with over 100,000.
In-game purchases – available for those using Android operating systems – are another revenue stream, with revenue split 60:40 in favour of the developer. WeChat offers to waive its 40% cut for games with transactions worth under 500,000 RMB ($74,000) for selected partners. Tencent Billiards brings in 10 million RMB ($1.5 billion) per day.
WeChat Moments is used by 750 million daily users, with the average user logging into the app 10 times per day. In total, Moments registers around 10 billion hits in any given 24-hour period. While it might not be the most highly-discussed elements of WeChat, Moments certainly seems to be one of the most addictive elements of the WeChat app.
WeChat Work, and in the workplace
WeChat offers Slack equivalent (albeit more focused on mobile users) WeChat Work. As of late 2017, it had been taken up by 1.5 million registered enterprises, with a total of 30 million active users.
By 2019 WeChat Work monthly active user numbers had risen to 60 million and 2.5 million businesses.
WeChat at Work figures
Source: Walk the Chat
Whether through WeChat at Work or not, WeChat is frequently employed for professional causes. Indeed, as of 2016, 83% of WeChat users were using the app for professional reasons. Coordination/arrangement of tasks is the most common usage, closely followed by issuing notifications.
It’s not just for these verbal communication-related tasks that workers find themselves using WeChat during the work day. 33% use it to transfer files, and 14% use it to conduct meetings and conference calls.
Once again, WeChat proves itself as a true polymath.
How do users employ WeChat in the workplace?
WeChat is also of key importance to sole traders, of whom 90% use the app for professional purposes. Making transactions is by far the most popular function in this regard, with 71% using WeChat to make or receive payments.
Workers were also asked how WeChat is useful in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, its primary function as a communication tool came out comfortably on top. While nothing else is valued even half as highly, it does also seem to play an important role in the other elected options also – with, for example, 40% using it for social promotion, and a third using it as a mobile office tool.
Why is WeChat useful in the workplace?
Other WeChat functions
In early 2019, Tencent announced the launch of a Siri/Alexa-like voice assistant named ‘Xiaowei’, which will help app users access functions and services. This foray into the internet of things is thought to be a step towards liberating WeChat from personal smartphones, and making it a more business-orientated platform. This comes at a time when B2C functionality such as gaming and social media come under increasing pressure from regulations and intense competition, reports the South China Morning Post.
Late 2018 saw WeChat following in the footsteps of members of the Facebook stable (perhaps inevitably) by introducing a Snapchat-imitating Stories function. The rise of the short video format has been significant in China over the last couple of years, ergo this seems a prudent call on Tencent’s part.
In 2018, it was announced that WeChat would not be rolling out a Facebook-style newsfeed. Content will continue to be served based on user preferences, rather than pushing certain content to certain users.
WeChat Usage Statistics
Tencent reported in early 2019, that over the course of 2018, 45 billion messages were sent over WeChat on a daily basis, supplemented by 410 million audio and video calls. In Q4 2019, WeChat reported a 15% year-on-year increase in daily messages sent.
In one minute, during the morning rush hour, 46TB of mobile data is collectively consumed on WeChat. Peak WeChat usage times occur later in the day, however, with peak official account activity occurring at 9pm and peak mini game activity at 8pm.
According to Walk the Chat, the WeChat app accounted for 34% of total mobile data traffic in China over 2017. This compares with Facebook’s share of 14% in North America, or 16% in Europe (though it does claim a hefty 24% of the Latin American market on this metric).
Tencent may enjoy dominance for the time being, led by WeChat. Its share of total mobile time, however, does seem to be in decline. Toutiao is the main beneficiary (Toutiau is ByteDance stablemates with TikTok – or Douyin as it is known in China; it is unclear whether Toutiau here in fact refers to ByteDance, with Douyin a bigger property – with 400 million monthly active users in China).
Mobile time spent by Chinese app-owning organisations
Source: Walk the Chat
The Newrank and Youzan report from which these stats derive finds that video (into which category we can place Douyin/TikTok) is eating into the share of time spent on social and commerce platforms. While this might spell bad news for WeChat, it won’t be too much of a concern for Tencent, with Tencent video topping download charts (see above).
According to ChinaChannel, users are spending more time using the WeChat every day. The figures, date, however from a 2017 report looking at 2016. More recent figures do not seem to have been published (at the time of writing).
These statistics show that a third of WeChat users spent more than four hours a day engaging with the app. This is a huge increase on the 2015 percentage.
We see an upward curve in terms of hours spent, broken by the two-four hour demographic (it seems if users are willing to spend more than two hours on the WeChat app, they are far more likely to spend more than four hours using the app than between two and four. We might, therefore consider two hours to be the watermark between low and high levels of usage.
Average daily time spent on WeChat
In terms of the grand total of mobile internet time, the below chart built on Kleiner Perkins data shows that WeChat accounts for around 30% of daily usage (by hours). This again dates back to 2017. We can see that the market share commanded by the country’s leading app grew over 2016 to reach this dominant position.
Tencent accounts for around 50% of total time spent, with QQ second to only WeChat.
Chinese mobile internet time spent by app
The Chinese New Year period tends to engender an increase in WeChat activity. In 2018, in the six days from 15-20 February, 230 billon WeChat messages were sent, 2.8 billion posts were shared on WeChat Moments, and 17.5 billion minutes of audio and video calls were made.
WeChat coronavirus usage
Naturally, WeChat was a central part of responding to coronavirus outbreak in China. As of mid-March, 300 million WeChat users had used WeChat Health to access pandemic updates, online consultation, and AI-powered self-assessment related to the coronavirus outbreak.
At the same point, coronavirus-related content had attracted 600 million page views on WeChat and Tencent News.
WeChat contacts statistics
The most-recent figures available pertaining to the number of contacts per user show a fairly rapid increase in average figures – with the 2016 figure standing at 194. The below chart notes that the number of meaningful individuals with whom humans can maintain meaningful relationships stands at 150…
Average number of WeChat contacts per user
Looking at it another way, we see that the proportion of users who have a higher number of contacts is one the rise – from 12% in 2014 to 44% in 2016; those with fewer than 51 contacts, on the other hand, fell to less than 10%, from over a third.
We see the strengthening in 2016 of a trend that emerged in 2015, with the proportion of users increasing as we go up in the number of contacts. As of 2016, close to three quarters have over 100 contacts.
How many contacts do WeChat users have?
Interestingly, there’s not a huge difference in the number of contacts added between users under or over the age of 45. Work is by far the most-common reason for adding new contacts, accounting for 57%. Friends and family comes a distant second at 21%, followed by ‘strangers’ i.e. online gaming friends.
WeChat and official life
The reach and prestige of WeChat is confirmed by its permeation into the sphere of Chinese official life. One of the most notable examples come from the app’s entry into the legal sphere. A court in Beijing opened an account using the app, though which litigants can chat with judges and get updates on their cases, and reports of broken court orders can be made.
The city of Guangzhou – population 14 million – has also pioneered the use of WeChat as a means to store its citizens’ ID cards, with several government bodies coming together to build the requisite systems. Various biometric data checks ensure that the ID cards are secure and impossible to counterfeit. Lightweight and upgraded versions are available, the validity of which hinges on the level of clearance required. These are in the process of being rolled out nationally.
Reportedly, 27% of users follow city authority accounts. WeChat’s increasing encroachment into this sphere of officialdom is not new. In 2015, WeChat launched City Services. This allows users to access various public services under the aegis of the app. This includes paying transportation charges, accessing healthcare, and paying bills.
The below graphs show the not inconsiderable uptake of these services between 2016 and 2017. The program is currently being tested in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Foshan.
WeChat City Services users
Source: Walk the Chat
Reportedly WeChat integration has improved and streamlined services, with waiting time cut by around 45 minutes in the healthcare sector.
Over 2018, there was a 370% increase in those using WeChat to ride on buses and subways, and a 530% increase in those using it travel on highways. In November 2018 it was reported that 250,000 commuters accesses metro/bus services using WeChat every minute during the morning rush hour, with 50 million users across 100 cities.
Chinese government machinery seems to approve of WeChat’s status as a tool of officialdom. 88% of government agencies believe WeChat strengthens ‘policy publicity’, 70% say its good for communication with the people, 69% that it is beneficial in helping people to access public services.
In 2017, an impressive 40% of WeChat users donated to charity using the platform.
WeChat content statistics
In terms of the content seen on WeChat Moments, it seems there’s a close match between the content users share and that they like to see. Personal life records is way out in front, confirming WeChat Moments’ status as a Facebook equivalent.
Branded content is the least shared and the least enjoyed content – though interesting a tiny percentage more people like to see it than share it. The only other category in which we see this is work-related content, in which there’s a noticeable deficit in the proportion of those who share such content in comparison with those who enjoy seeing it.
We see the opposite ratio in effect when it comes to trending news and expression of personal opinions (presumably not on the subject of politics). It’s interesting, however, to note the solid percentage of those interested in both sharing and reading of personal opinion. A cynic might speculate deference to the authorities may play a part in the difference in the two columns here.
WeChat Moments: content preferences
While WeChat is clearly one of the dominant channels through which brands and celebrities can reach the public, it seems a saturation of official accounts has contributed to a decline in post read rates.
The decline is less pronounced among the top 500 accounts, with an average read count of 49,000 representing a 9% decline. For the smaller official account, however, the figures look a little more problematic, with a 24% decline seeing average read rates come drop to under 3,000 from comfortably above in 2016.
WeChat article reading rates
Source: Walk the Chat
In an analysis of how post views relate to the frequency with which a brand posts, Skift notes that travel brands who post to their WeChat more than three times per week attracted a good deal more post views than those which posted fewer. While the above figures may be disheartening, it seems that regular engagement is what keeps an audience on side.
Viewership and posting frequency
The above figures pertain to 2017. Across 2018, travel-related content has had a mixed ride in terms of readership, according to Dragon Tail Interactive.
These figures cover the most-popular national tourism boards (NTOs – the tourism boards for specific country destinations), destination marketing organisations (DMOs – focused on specific cities/regions), airlines, and cruise lines.
Read rates for travel-related WeChat official accounts, 2017 vs. 2018
Source: Dragon Tail Interactive
As we can see, different type of organisations in the travel sector have had different fates. For both NTOs and DMOs read rates for the top-10 have had worse years than the top-20. It seems that users are more interested in/open to reading content relevant to them from a wider range of publishers – though the top-20 cannot quite be considered the realms of obscurity. For NTOs, this serves to soften a decline, while for DMOs see an increase in read rates if we take the top-20 into consideration. For airlines, readership growth is fairly even over the top-10 and the top-15, while the top-10 cruise lines have seemingly had a wonderful 2018, with a 25% increase.
Interestingly, these full-year figures make for much more positive reading than if we just look at H1 2018, where a 14% increase in the average read rate for articles posted by top-20 DMOs does little to offset a 28% decline for top-20 NTOs, a 1% decline in airlines, and an 18% decline for cruise lines. The second half of the year clearly sees far more activity in terms of travel-related content.
Dragon Tail Interactive speculate that swapping the like button for a share function could help further increase readership.
WeChat’s annual statistics report (Mandarin), released in January 2019 broke users down by age, including a few titbits of information relating to each. According to TechNode, users born in the 2000s are most active in the late evening – between 10pm and 12.30am; those born in the 90s enjoy reading ‘emotional life’ content; users born in the 80s use WeChat predominantly during the day for work purposes and enjoy reading about national affairs; 70s-born users are in bed by 11.30pm and enjoy the WeChat Moments feed, as do the 55 and over grouping.
Plagiarism is a noted problem on WeChat, leading to the announcement of a crackdown in December 2018. This sees a panel of arbitration deciding on individual cases in which an accusation has been made. Those found in breach of regulations will incur punitive measures.
WeChat also suspended its ‘drift bottle’ function in the same month, a feature which allowed you send a virtual message in a bottle, which would be picked up a stranger. While stories reportedly abound of romance arising from answered drift bottles, the feature was being heavily used to distribute pornography and solicit sex workers. The pulling of the feature comes in the light of a wider crackdown on ‘immoral’ content in China.
Over the course of 2017, the WeChat Rumour Rebuttal Centre penalised 180,000 official accounts for spreading false information. It also published 40 lists outlining rumours on Moments, which had been disseminated over 45 million times.
WeChat Revenue Statistics
As with any app belonging to a larger conglomerate organisation, it can be hard to tease out how much revenue is ascribable to WeChat from Tencent’s overall figure. Tencent has clearly been one of the great success stories of the past two decades (it was only founded in 1998).
The rise and rise of Tencent does seem to have its limit, however. In the second quarter of 2018, it saw its first decline in profits since 2005, with decreases in monthly active users for social apps QQ and QZone (WeChat did not suffer the same fate, despite a slight slowdown in growth). Net profit of 17.8 billion RMB ($10.7 billion) represented a 2% decline as compared to the same point the preceding year – and an even greater decline as opposed to the (just shy of) 23.3 billon RMB posted in Q1 2018. This was despite revenue being up 30% year-on-year, to 73.7 RMB ($10.7 billion).
The third quarter of 2018, however, was a different story, with profit once again climbing to reach a level marginally higher than that seen in the first quarter, to reach (just over) 23.3 billion RMB – or $3.4 billion. This was generated from 80.6 billion RMB ($11.7 billion) revenue. Compared to the previous year, revenue was up 24%, and profit 30%.
In Q4 2019 total Tencent came to 105.8 billion RMB, bringing total Tencent revenue for 2018 to 377.3 billion RMB.
Tencent revenue and profit, Q4 2016-Q3 2018
The story here is an interesting one as concerns WeChat. The decline posted in the second quarter did not seem to be a WeChat issue, being rather related to gaming, where a tightening of restrictions is thought to have hit this other major area of Tencent’s business hard.
A freeze in awarding new games licenses in China (which has seen lengthy delays on the Chinese release of hugely popular titles Fortnite and PUBG – in both of which Tencent has a stake) and a ban on popular Tencent title Monster Hunter: World (albeit occurring in August, and therefore in the next quarter) stand as examples of the challenges Tencent faces in this department.
So does the resurgence posted in the third quarter represent a healthy recovery in this part of Tencent’s business? Actually, no – the most noteworthy figure here is a 47% surge in advertising revenue, which has come to account for 20% of revenue for the first time. And where do these advertisements live? Of course, on WeChat and, to a lesser extent, QQ.
This is thought to be the result of a push from Tencent to monetise its huge social networks, which has seen business groups merged in order to unify the advertising sales platform.
Tencent revenue by business area
Total Tencent revenue from its social media properties came to 22 billion RMB in Q4 2019, taking the total for the year to 82.3 billion RMB. The former figure accounts for 21% of Tencent Q4 2019 revenue, the latter for 23% of 2019 revenue.
In the third quarter of 2018, Tencent published a breakdown of its revenue streams by area, though not by app. This contained cloud services for the first time – indicating Tencent’s ambitions to run against US-based names such as Amazon and Microsoft as well as domestic rival Alibaba, who are increasingly targeting cloud-based services.
WeChat being the polymath app that it is, it has a foot in all of the business areas identified in the below business segments. Despite ongoing travails, gaming remains the largest, bringing in 80 billion RMB ($11.8 billion). It is likely that the largest share of this revenue comes from outside WeChat, from the likes of League of Legends, Call of Duty Online, and Fortnite – all of which are hugely popular internationally. It should be noted, though, that in-game ad daily transaction volumes for WeChat mini games can go as high as 10 million RMB ($1.4 million). Whether this falls under gaming here is unclear, however.
The share of the 52 billion RMB ($7.7 billion) brought in social networks will be shared with QQ; though WeChat will certainly account for the lion’s share of this. Online advertising too is likely to be driven by China’s most-used app.
WeChat offers other revenue generating functions, so will account for a certain share of the ‘other’ segment. We can be certain WeChat Pay generates a healthy proportion of this at the very least. On the other hand, we can perhaps assume that the contribution to the new business-focused cloud section will be relatively small.
Tencent revenue sources
Source: China Channel
WeChat contribution to the Chinese economy
CAICT reported that WeChat drove 330 billion RMB (a little under $50 billion) of business of into the Chinese economy over 2017. We don’t have more recent stats, but we can imagine that figure has increased.
Another effect of this was the contribution to the employment of 20 million people – around 5 million directly and 15 million indirectly. This has been steadily on the increase over the past few years.
Tencent market cap
Tencent’s share price took a considerable hit over the course of 2018, with news of the second quarter decline in profits marking a particular low point, instantly knocking 5% off the market cap.
In January 2018 Tencent was worth a total of $520 billion, falling as low at $308 billion in October. It has effected a slight recovery since then. As of February 2019, Tencent’s market cap stood at $418 billion.
It should be noted that January 2018 marked a high point, crowning an exceptional 2017, which in terms of share price saw an incredible increase from $25.20 to $60.96 (and Tencent becoming the first $500 billion Chinese company). The previous high was $28.06, in September 2016. As of mid-February 2019, prices stood at a little bit over $40.
Tencent share price
Again, it is nigh on impossible to properly extricate WeChat from this. Back in 2015, HSBC pegged WeChat’s value at $84 billion – around half of Tencent’s total value at the time.
Nowhere else in the world do we see a phenomenon like WeChat – an app that basically carries out the functions of every other app you could ever want or need. With everything from official administrative business, to shopping, to payments, to gaming covered – and that’s not even to mention the basic messaging and social media functions – the WeChat user needs very little else to go about their daily, weekly, monthly, and annual business.
The below graphic perhaps gives us a little insight into how wide a range of functions are offered through this single app.
Indeed, with official life increasingly seeming to come into WeChat’s remit, one might be tempted – at the risk of grandiloquence – to call it the state app of China. Indeed, its research seems somehow to have encroached into the spiritual world. A study from CAICT finds 98% of WeChat users believe the app has fostered positive energy.
Of how many other apps would so many users say the same? At least outside of mindfulness apps specifically tailored to serve such a function…
As it stands, WeChat seems pretty untouchable, entrenched in a position self-protecting dominance. While the sometimes unpredictable nature of the Chinese authorities mean the risk of state censure is a persistent threat to any organisation that enjoys a high level of success, WeChat is so closely tied in with the everyday lives of its users on so many levels, that it would be big step to take to damage it too greatly.
The issue it faces, then, is what now? What do you do when nearly everyone in your principal market has already downloaded and already uses the app? We’ve seen a few indications that Tencent will target business, though how much this will be through the means of WeChat is not certain.
WeChat Pay certainly has potential to expand further, to perhaps become the leading form for small financial transactions. The focus still seems to be domestic here, with Chinese users travelling abroad hardly constituting a concerted international push.
This is, of course, brings us to the elephant in the room. Or rather, in a different room: the rest of the world. The market for messenger apps is crowded in most of the world, and pulling people away from rival popular messaging apps, the Facebook Messengers, the WhatsApps, is certainly is a tall order – though we only need look through the short history of social media, as well as the longer one of tech in general, to understand that nothing is fixed.
Surely, however, with WeChat’s huge range of functions and integration with so many facets of physical as well as virtual life, there is huge scope for it to enter the market from a different angle. Even if it is not the big western markets, there is surely scope for the app to do better in Asia and the parts of the developing world.
With dominance over the world’s most-populous nation, though, and solid revenue streams, perhaps the urge to internationalise WeChat does not seem overly pressing. However Tencent choose to proceed, WeChat remains a unique phenomenon. Whatever happens next will surely be edifying for the rest of us.