Beijing cosmetics store owner Zhang Xiaochen launched a WeChat account for her business at the insistence of her customers. The platform today facilitates 40 percent of her orders. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Feeling bored by the first year of his job as a consultant at a Beijing education agency, Gao Ming decided to go home to Hohhot and open a restaurant on the campus of his alma mater, Inner Mongolia University. "I saw that people around me were all enthusiastic about using [mobile text and voice messaging service] WeChat. I wanted to take advantage of this popular platform. As a computer networking major, I also felt passionate about starting a business," said Gao, 27. His restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall venue able to accommodate no more than 10 diners, but he receives around 150 orders daily, accounting for a monthly turnover of about 150,000 yuan ($24,579)."I aimed to take delivery orders through WeChat from the start. When we distributed our menus with quick response (QR) codes to dorms, students would immediately scan them. They just love doing it," Gao said, crediting the matrix barcodes for making his business "cool."With a total of 800 subscribers following the restaurant's official account, Gao sends photos and descriptions of new dishes as well as advertisements to recruit part-time employees. These posts appear under the "official accounts" tab on customers' WeChat menu, which is separate from the "discover" tab as it's known in English that is for friends only."People who actually order dishes through WeChat account for 20 percent of total customers. After all, ordering over the phone is quicker and more direct. But [WeChat] is a good platform for us to showcase our dishes, share information and interact with students," Gao said.Business at customers' fingertipsThe number of WeChat users in China surpassed 400 million in the first half of this year, the People's Daily reported in July. This huge user base has encouraged a growing number of people to do business under official accounts on the platform. Fu Liang, an independent telecommunication media and technology analyst, sees great potential for WeChat to become a more important business tool due to its unique advantages."Unlike [online retail platform] Taobao or [microblogging service] Weibo, which are open to all people, WeChat offers a more enclosed circle that attracts a relatively smaller crowd. However, the crowd it attracts is more targeted and more likely to purchase particular goods or services," said Fu. "Additionally, it is a relatively trustworthy platform because people register with their real identity." Fu also noted that the intimacy of WeChat means businesses can develop a friend-like relationship with customers, rather than a strictly commercial one. Users who receive messages sent by businesses are more likely to be treated with respect as customers, limiting the flow of junk mail or spam that can cause users to delete or block businesses. "When you select the right posts and send them at the right time to foster a loyal customer base, these efforts eventually pay off. People are more likely to trust you as a business and continue following you," Fu said.