WeChat Mini Program - All you need to know
We have updated this article in February 2022 regarding the various changes that have been made to WeChat Mini Programs since the creation of this post in March 2017.
Before we talk about Mini Programs, it’s important to know exactly what they are and what they do. Tencent, the Chinese tech giant that operates WeChat (and QQ), added Mini Programs to their applications in January 2017. Mini Programs essentially operate like a separate mobile app, except that they function within another larger app. WeChat started out as a very basic messaging app and has now become a full ecosystem with more than 1 billion monthly users. This article, however, is not about the specificities of WeChat itself, so if you are still learning the ropes of WeChat, we recommend starting with this article here first.
So, let's get to know Mini Programs:
What Is a Mini Program?
Mini Programs are small applications that function within WeChat. When they were first launched, they were technically more basic than a standard native APP. However, now in 2018, since Tencent opened more APIs for developers, they are now quite similar to a native APP in terms of their complexity.
Why Mini Program?
When you use Mini Programs, you’ll see that they function like normal mobile phone apps. Tencent refers to them as “Mini Programs” due to a dispute with Apple over the use of the term “app”, however, the term “Mini App” is sometimes used when talking about these programs.
How Popular are WeChat Mini Programs?
There are more than 3.5 million mini programs on the market transacting 2.7 trillion RMB and more than 450 million daily users in 2021, as stated in the 2022 Weixin Open Class Pro Main Forum (2022 微信公开课PRO).
Mini Programs have become the way to do almost everything in China. From ordering food to finding love, Mini Programs cover a wide range of services and needs of hundreds of millions of WeChat users every day.
Most Popular Mini Programs by category
Examples of WeChat Mini Programs
There are thousands of companies using WeChat Mini Programs to promote their services. If you think that Mini Programs are only used by Chinese companies, think twice. Brands from Uniqlo to Starbucks all have their own WeChat Mini Programs which allow for engagement with consumers through membership cards and other brand activities. Both MacDonalds and KFC’s Mini Programs rank in the top 50 most used apps of 2021 and take first and second place respectively in the F&B category.
WeChat Mini Games are Mini Programs designed for gaming. As they are already integrated in WeChat’s Tencent servers, they benefit from smooth loading speeds and have all of WeChat’s social features. WeChat Mini Games let users compete with their friends, displaying your WeChat contact’s scores on leaderboards. Once you have finished your game, you receive an automatic notification to see who (among your friends) you have beaten. This social feature on mini games helps to increase the average time on the program and the user retention.
One of the most popular Mini Games in 2018 was Jump Jump (跳一跳). This mini game challenges the player to jump over different boxes by pressing the screen without falling out. This mini app reached 100 million users in only two weeks. In September 2022, Sheep Sheep 3tiles (羊了个羊), a tile matching game achieved viral success, reaching over 60 million active users a day and becoming a hot topic on various platforms such as Weibo and Douyin.
Lifestyle Mini Apps
From catching a train to splitting bills, there are thousands of Mini Programs that ease the routines of millions of people in China. Bike Sharing mini apps are one of the most popular options among urban and not so urban users. If you want to know more about this phenomenon, check our article about the Rise and fall of bike sharing in China. Brands like Mobike and Qingju now have their own Mini Program that allows users to use their bikes without leaving WeChat.
E-Commerce Mini Programs
China’s largest retailers are on WeChat. One of the perks of WeChat E-commerce Mini Programs is their integration with WeChat Pay. This integration makes the purchase process easier and faster as users don’t need to log in between different platforms to complete their payment.
Where to find WeChat Mini Programs?
Mini Programs are not available in on app stores, so if you want to find one, you will have to search for it on WeChat, scan a QR code from a street advertisement, receive it within a WeChat group or from a friend, or find it linked to a WeChat Official Account.
What Are The Advantages Of Mini Programs?
Mini Programs are very lightweight, and there is no need to download them to your phone. You can access them anywhere, anytime, and if you no longer need or want one of your Mini Programs, all you have to do is delete it from your WeChat, by simply pressing and holding down on the Mini Program you wish to delete, which is as simple as deleting a message.
WeChat Mini Apps accessibility
Moreover, you can access all the Mini Programs you use and the ones you have pinned by simply going to your Chats page and sliding open the drop-down menu at top of the screen (see screenshot below).
WeChat Mini Programs are hosted on Tencent’s servers, so their loading speed is swift and efficient.
As explained previously, there are few different ways to find these Mini Programs, one of which is to link them to a WeChat Official Account. A WeChat Official Account can be linked to several Mini Programs. You can also find them within a group Chat (you will be able to see all the Mini Programs that have been shared in your group). Finally, you can also find them by searching in the Search WeChat Search Engine.
Another way to share your Mini Programs is to forward them to one of your contacts or to a chat group. As you can see below, the layout/visual of the Mini Program is much more attractive than just a simple link.
How companies can benefit from WeChat Mini Programs?
From a marketing perspective, Mini Programs have a captive audience, and they work with every OS supporting WeChat. Indeed, in less than a year the time spent on WeChat Mini Programs went from 1.6 minutes per day to 9.8 minutes.
Another interesting point is that the biggest companies with a Mobile/Native APP also have a WeChat Mini Program. By combining both, they have a perfect match. For instance, 54.7% of JD.com Mini Program users come from Tier 3 or smaller cities, against only 43.7% of Mobile APP users. This means that users from second or third tier cities are more likely to use the company’s Mini Program rather than the company’s Mobile APP.
This data suggests that users in tier 3 or 4 cities gained access to the internet and WeChat later than users in tier 1 cities. It may also be because Mini Programs arrived later as well, meaning that users in tier 3 or 4 cities discovered all the technology (WeChat and Mini Programs) at around same time, and favour the idea of using Mini Programs rather than the Native APP.
Do WeChat Mini Programs replace Apps?
To strengthen the previous point, 50% of the top WeChat Mini Programs in all industries also have an equivalent Mobile APP. This figure is even higher in e-commerce and lifestyle services, where more than 80% of the top 100 WeChat Mini Programs have a Native APP.
Another interesting fact is that users of WeChat Mini Programs are more likely to spend smaller amounts on WeChat Mini Programs (less than 1,000 RMB) than bigger amounts. For purchases higher than 1,000 RMB, users tend to use the Mobile APP instead.
Therefore, based on this information, it may be worthwhile for companies to focus on targeting Mini Program users in third-tier cities and lure them onto their Mini Programs with attractive and affordable products.
What Are The Limitations Of Mini Programs?
The size limit of a Mini Program is only 10 MB (however the pictures, videos and sounds can be hosted on a server and are not included in this 10 MB size).
WeChat restricts Mini Programs from linking to outside the Tencent ecosystem, making it difficult to coordinate with other parts of a brand’s web infrastructure. This also means that other payment options are not accessible in Mini Programs.
In addition, users and official accounts cannot share Mini Programs on their WeChat Moments, which is the WeChat user’s news and social networking feed. The sharing function is limited to group and individual chats, but users can share Mini Program QR codes in their Moments.
What Is The Difference Between Mini Programs And Official Accounts?
The main difference between Mini Programs and Official Accounts is that users subscribe to an official account to receive news and info from that company, meaning there is an ongoing relationship between an official account and its followers. Mini Programs do not foster this same relationship, as users can just scan a QR code once to use the program.
WeChat Mini Program Vs WeChat Web App
Even before the WeChat world was talking about Mini Programs, people were developing Web Apps using the WeChat API. WeChat Apps are not built using the WeChat framework and have less restrictions. In our article WeChat Mini Program Vs WeChat App we tell you the pros and cons of creating these kinds of applications.
What Is The Difference Between Mini Programs And Mobile Apps?
As already mentioned, there is no need to download Mini Programs to your phone, and you won’t find them in any app store. There’s also a difference in the development costs. The cost to develop a Mini Program is usually cheaper than developing a native app.
What Are The Most Popular Mini Programs?
Upon the launch of Mini-Programs in early/mid 2017, the most accessed Mini Programs were:
1. Hangzhou Plus – HZPlus
2. McDonald’s Discount Coupons - 麦当劳优惠券
3. Tencent Surveys - 腾讯投票
4. Mobike - 摩拜单车
5. Sleepy Sounds - 小睡眠
Scan this QR code to try the Sleepy Sounds Mini Program:
By 2022, the Mini-Program landscape has changed drastically. Topped ranked programs are now:
1. Tencent Mobile Top-up – 腾讯手机充值 (local services)
2. Daily Fees – 生活缴费 (local services)
3. Didi – 滴滴出行 (transport)
4. JD - 京东购物 (ecommerce)
5. WeChat City Services (local services)
How to build a WeChat Mini Program?
How to install a WeChat Mini Program?
Another advantage of WeChat Mini Programs is that it sidesteps the traditional app installation process. You can find a Mini Program by navigating within your WeChat account (using the search function within WeChat or you receive the Mini Program from your friends within your conversation) or scanning a QR code. The process of having a Mini Program takes only a few seconds as they use your WeChat ID as logging information, so you don’t need to create separate accounts.
How to delete a Wechat Mini Program?
If you don’t want to use the previous Mini Programs you have been using, you can delete them. Just go to the "Discover" tab, select "Mini Programs". Find the Mini Program you wish to delete, swipe left on it, and tap "Delete".
What Does The Future Look Like For Mini Programs?
Mini Programs have the advantage of simplicity. They are cheap to develop, and easy to add and delete, but they are becoming more and more complex. Tencent’s WeChat developers are making them more advanced, particularly for gaming and e-commerce purposes, giving WeChat a stronger edge in this market. Mini Programs are starting to become a part of life for more and more developers and WeChat users, competing with traditional apps and acquiring customers from traditional app stores.
Over half a decade into launch of Mini Programs, they are now everywhere, making it impossible for larger companies to ignore. Tencent bet on making this "trend" something permanent has so far paid off.
QPSoftware is the leading WeChat Agency located in Shanghai, we have more than 10 years working on the WeChat environment. We can help you to open an official account, run a WeChat Store or develop a WeChat Miniprogram.
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