Questioning WeChat as a model for conversational commerce

WeChat is often held up as an example of where conversational commerce could work here in the west. It’s a messaging app with huge numbers of users, many many of whom interact with services and buy things without the inconvenience of leaving the app. Ergo Messenger, SnapChat, Whatsapp, Telegram, Kik, etc. etc. could do the same and cue a tonne of excitement about how that might happen.

I live in London in the UK so I can’t use WeChat, but I’ve just read a post by Dan Grover, a man who does. More than that he’s a product manager on the platform. Not only does he have intimate knowledge of WeChat he’s also schooled in understanding how customers behave and why.

His conclusion is that WeChat evolved into the all-singing, all-dancing behemoth it is today not because there’s a natural evolution from messaging to conversational commerce, but because they had lots of users and they exploited that strength to move into commerce and other adjacent spaces. Moreover, most of the services on WeChat work by firing up a card inside the app which functions like an app or mini-web page – in these examples the commerce simply isn’t conversational.

As Dan sees it (and he was there watching) WeChat was mostly successful in capturing the commerce opportunity because of  “enhancements [to the app] made running counter or orthogonal to the idea of conversational UI”.

If you want more of this go and read his post. It’s a long one, but the examples of how WeChat works and how conversational commerces is being developed in the west will really ram the point home.

I don’t like writing negative posts and I’ve written a couple now that are down on the bot/conversational commerce opportunity but I wanted to summarise and capture this info about WeChat for posterity.

As an aside, it’s terribly easy to see success in a different country and incorrectly assume it can be copied. It’s an easy mistake to make because the intoxicating success is highly visible, but it’s hard to find out the detail of how it was delivered – that’s why posts like Dan’s are so important. However, building a deep understanding of the customer is the best way to avoid building a duff copy-cat, and has the added bonus of being the best way to start a company more generally.