Boom in mini programs in China opens up huge business opportunities

A citizen in Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu Province, uses a mini program which provides local public transportation information. Photo by Wang Luxian/ People’s Daily Online

Thanks to their ability to meet people’s needs for various services during the COVID-19 pandemic, mini programs have quickly penetrated various industries in China, such as telemedicine, online education, as well as the fresh food retail industry, while playing important roles in government affairs and people’s livelihoods.

There are now more than 5.5 million mini programs in China, with the amount of daily active users exceeding 440 million, according to a midyear report on mini programs in 2020.

The total value of the transactions that take place on mini programs in China is expected to exceed 2 trillion yuan (about $287.8 billion) by the end of the year, suggested a recent report released by a Chinese SaaS provider.

“During the period when the epidemic situation was very serious, my family did our best to not go outside, so I bought vegetables at home via mini programs. It was very convenient,” said a college student surnamed Zhao.

When she found that mini programs could meet basically all her needs for various services ranging from paying bills to online shopping, Zhao taught her parents how to use them so that they could also enjoy bike sharing and express services.

“My parents learned how to use these mini programs quickly,” said Zhao, adding that mini programs are convenient as people can use them without having to download a dedicated app onto their mobile phones.

The first mini program was released on social media platform WeChat on Jan. 9, 2017. There are now 11 mini program platforms in China, including WeChat, service-focused e-commerce giant Meituan Dianping, the world’s leading mobile payment platform Alipay, tech giant Baidu, and leading cybersecurity company Qihoo 360.

There were 580,000 mini programs in China in 2017, and the figure is estimated to surpass 14 million in 2020, according to iiMedia Research, a third-party data mining and data analysis service provider.

The number of mini program users in China is expected to exceed 850 million this year, according to data from iiMedia Research.

With more platforms intensifying their efforts to tap into the field, more types of mini programs will be connected to various platforms, ensuring that the growth of mini programs will continue to accelerate.

So far, Alipay’s digital platform has a total of over 1.7 million mini programs, which are used by more than 600 million people each month.

The number of mini programs on the WeChat platform has exceeded 3.2 million, and have more than 730 million monthly active users, according to a recent report on the development of online mini programs during the first half of this year.

As demand for contactless digital services has soared since the COVID-19 outbreak, China has seen a boom in the development and performance of mini programs.

Many businesses that have launched mini programs on the Alipay platform have seen their sales volumes rocket.

One mini program launched by a milk tea brand on Alipay was visited more than 8 million times in the two months after its release, while the value of the brand’s business transactions on Alipay platform rose 50 times.

Another mini program that provides users with moving services found that there were over 10,000 inquiries made on the mini program on Alipay for moving services every month, and 30 percent of these people eventually hired the company for its services.

Li Shang Huang, a Chinese snack food retail brand, managed to attract more than 20,000 people to its offline stores within 20 days by providing coupons through its mini program.

With apps taking up more and more internal storage, space on mobile phones has become increasingly precious. Mini programs offer a far more convenient alternative, as people can open them simply by scanning the code of a mini program or searching the program with their existing apps.

On top of that, the cost of developing a mini program is much lower than that needed for an app, and in terms of user experience, there’s not much difference between the two.

Moreover, being closely connected with social media apps gives mini programs a major advantage over apps, said Pan Helin, executive director of the research institute of digital economy at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

Recently, WeChat started running internal tests for a new feature based on mini programs. This feature allows enterprises to run mini stores on the platform and promote sales via livestreaming. The move is aimed at helping more small and medium-sized enterprises and owners of private businesses benefit from e-commerce via the WeChat platform.

Last March, Ant Financial Services Group, the operator of Alipay, announced that it would upgrade Alipay into an open digital lifestyle platform.

The platform revealed that it would work with 50,000 service providers to help 40 million businesses in the service industry realize digital transformation over the next three years.

China has witnessed digital transformation in its retail industry, manufacturing, and urban governance, and the next key sector to experience massive digital transformation will be the service industry, according to experts in the field.

Source: People’s Daily Online

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