Digital Publishing
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How messaging apps will drive the next frontier of eCommerce

women using smartphones

Alongside more traditional social networks, publishers also have to contend with another social messaging service: chat apps.

This is another space where we can expect eCommerce activity to further emerge, says Damian Radcliffe, as part of our series looking at how publishers are using eCommerce.

New research from eMarketer predicts that in 2019, “2.52 billion people worldwide, or 87.1% of smartphone users, will use a mobile messaging app at least once per month.” “Next year,” they predict, “that figure will have surpassed the number of mobile phone social network users, though there will be some overlap between the two groups.” 

The current messaging market leader is WhatsApp, with 1.6 billion monthly users. Over time, the service has evolved to be more than just a chat app. Like other platforms, it’s embraced the “Stories” phenomenon, and 5 million businesses use an enterprise version of the product. Facebook intends to more closely integrate this service with other products in the Facebook family, such as the original site, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

Example of how H&M use the stories format

Next on the agenda is the integration of adverts into WhatsApp Status updates (Stories) in 2020. Brands can already operate in this space on Facebook and Instagram

Retailers are already experimenting with the eCommerce potential afforded by stories. It won’t be long before publishers follow suit, using this functionality for the purchasing of products as well as, perhaps, subscriptions, and not just an opportunity to dive deeper into stories previewed through the Stories format.

Despite WhatsApp’s global dominance – there are only 25 countries around the world where it is not the market leader – this includes large, and increasingly important markets, such as China, South Korea and Japan. 

In those spaces, where WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk (among others, especially in China), have long offered a glimpse into where Silicon Valley’s own messaging apps are heading. 

As I noted back in 2016, “These platforms — with integrated functionality including eCommerce, calls, texts, stickers and the ability to order both food and taxis — offer a handy one-stop shop for their users. This Sauron-esque UX (“one app to rule them all”) is part of a wider trend that is “re-imaging communication.”“

Subsequently, how these platforms develop should be of huge interest to publishers. Wherever they are.

Top Messaging Apps by Country, via MessengerPeople

Moreover, following shifts in audience behaviour, many media companies are already experimenting in the messaging app environment, although typically for story gathering and distribution

In light of this, it’s interesting to note how one publisher – Marie Claire Australia – recently launched an app on the social media platform WeChat, in early 2019, aimed at Chinese consumers. The publication already has an established presence in China, having launched in the country back in 2002.

Marie Claire China’s audience reach. Data via Marie Claire International, last updated, March 2019

Partnering with the luxury brand Bulgari, and Marie Claire China, the mini-app sits within the Chinese publication’s existing presence on WeChat, thereby giving ”instant credibility, audience appeal and reach.” Marie Claire China is promoting the initiative in shopping malls across Shanghai and Beijing, as well as with cinemas, travel agents and influencers. 

According to a press release highlighting the move, “the Marie Claire China app has more than 700,000 followers, of which 65% intend to visit Australia in the coming months with a further 25% living in Australia.” 

More widely, as Nicky Briger, editor of Marie Claire Australia, acknowledged: “…Chinese shoppers accounted for 32% of the global luxury spend in 2017 – and more than half were millennials. This initiative is an incredible opportunity for our partners to drive sales and meet their commercial objectives by accessing this highly sought-after audience.”

Brand opportunities highlighted by Pacific Magazines, which publishes Marie Claire in Australia, include “mini-app takeovers, native and branded in-app content, editorial integration, in-store activations as well as bespoke partnerships on the platform involving video and key opinion leaders.”

Although this effort does not include an eCommerce element – Bulgari merely sponsored the effort – it doesn’t take much imagination to see this being a logical next step; and one that other publishers are likely to pursue, either taking consumers to their own stores, or those of commercial partners.

Marie Claire WeChat mini-app. Image via Pacific Media Network

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