Is the future of ecommerce on Instagram and WeChat?

19 Feb 2014



In a constantly evolving digital scenario, where everything converges into mobile technologies, it’s important do understand WHERE and WHEN people buy stuff online. And both questions can have a unique answer: everywhere, and anytime, on their phone.

Considering this, it’s clear how mobile-based social networks play a vital role in today’s world – especially for what concerns the local dimension.

Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have been trying for a long time to become the ultimate social e-commerce platform, yet the response hasn’t been always so enthusiastic – although we’ve discussed how Pinterest clones in Russia and China are doing quite well from the e-commerce perspective.

This is probably due to a very simple fact: people are always looking for an immediate mobile-based interaction, even for what concerns buying a product online. And mobile-born social networks are the perfect media for that.

Today we’re analysing trends coming from Middle East and Far East Asia, and how people are using platforms like Instagram and WeChat to sell products like clothes, food, and – yes, it happened – even sheep.


Middle East: Instagram e-commerce

We recently interviewed Omar Christidis, founder of the ArabNet; he stressed how the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app is becoming the new thing for low-cost local promotion of online stores.

As Christdis told us:

“In the Gulf countries, we’ve seen the emergence of very popular Instagram stores, either curating products available in the market or selling home-made products (especially food and fashion), often run by ladies from home, reaching tens and hundreds of thousands of followers.”


As reported by QZ, the items sold via Instagram in the MENA region are a wide variety. In Kuwait there’s an Instagram account to sell manga (@mangabox), and someone established a successful activity by promoting his sales of sheep (@sheeps_sell).


Ecommerce Instagram Kuwait


As you can see, the account has over 2 thousand followers, and generates quite a few interactions:


Ecommerce Instagram


Other successful business include Alyamamah (@alyamamahgelato), which sells ice cream in the Riyadh region. And even local e-commerce platforms – such as MarkaVIP (@markavip) – have their handles on Instagram.


MarkaVIP Instagram



China: Selling on WeChat

M-commerce on Asian mobile IM apps has a great potential. LINE is doing a great job in countries like Thailand and Japan, where the app established partnerships with local e-commerce players to sell fashion and cosmetic items (more on this post: M-commerce in Asia, what is LINE doing, and where).

Recently, the biggest ecommerce company in Japan, Rakuten, bought mobile chat app Viber for 900 million dollars to extend its mobile penetration.

WeChat is moving even faster: the Tencent-owned messaging giant is the perfect platform where to sell any sort of stuff in mainland China.

For a series of reasons:

  • It has over 270 million active users. Considering that 100 million of them are outside China, over 170 million Chinese mobile users have the app within their hand’s reach.
  • It has geolocation features.
  • It has an integrated QR code system, allowing online-to-offline integration.
  • It allows the customisation of official accounts, through the setting of the menu and the definition of the user experience.
  • It’s a formidable channel for content publishing, and therefore, for brand communication.  

A wide range of different products is sold on WeChat today, including items and services that people use everyday: Elong & China Southern sell hotels and flights on the app, while Xiaomi has sold thousands of smartphones in a few minutes. Taxi booking service Didi Dache allows users to find and pay rides on the WeChat app. 


Didi Dache Wechat


There’s more: WeChat suits any sort of need, even for what concerns offline activities. As an example, in Beijing it has been integrated with vending machines:


WeChat Beijing


And it’s used by some students at Liaocheng University (Shandong Province) to sell fresh fruit on the campus, as reported by Tech In Asia:


Fruit on Wechat


You can check out this curious initiative right on the app: WeChat ID is idweiguofang.

Ecommerce WeChat


The success of social media platforms is always determined by the context and by the fact that they appeared in the right moment – Instagram and WeChat are probably among the best examples in recent years. 

Photo sharing and instant messaging are definitely among the main trends in 2014; the challenge is to find a way to place the right touch points to connect supply and demand, without being annoying or inconsistent with the way people approach to these platforms. 

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.


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