At the beginning of 2017, Zhang Xiaolong introduced Mini Program with a simple phrase: use it and leave it. Since then, the new function has risen to be a mobile internet luxury. Giants in the industry are in fierce competition with each other to prevail in the Mini Program business.
In a year, WeChat Mini Programs quickly evolved into the largest entrance for online commerce and offline service. 22 months since WeChat took the lead, super-apps like Alipay, Baidu, Tik Tok and Toutiao joined the “arms race” of Mini Programs in November, 2018.
Now, the Mini Program eco-system has taken shape, the lion share taken by BAT with their billions of daily active users. The three titans are exploiting their own advantages: some broadens the entrance to prolong its lead; some continues its smooth sails in the sea of centralization by steering information flow recommendation; while some is resolving to integration of Mini Program and financial service.
I. Introduction of Mini Program Platforms
On January 9th, 2017, Mini Program was released by Zhang Xiaolong on WeChat Open Class Pro. It was defined as an application able to be used without installation. Users can easily access Mini Programs by scanning QR Codes or searching. The applets can be opened and closed instantaneously without any installation or uninstallation involved. For programmers, Mini Programs are easier to develop than independent Apps, and can provide basic functions to meet their needs.
WeChat Mini Program was far from mature back in 2017, but its development is currently in full swing and placed this platform on top of the industry. Recently, WeChat Pay announced its upgraded 2.0 version of the “smart retail area” solution which is closely integrated with Mini Program to forge closed loops in retailing to tap into traffic outside the area. Among the functions, sensorless parking and face recognition payment, while improving service experience, create business marketing opportunities through interaction with users.
The development of Alipay Mini Program is underpinned by the huge traffic owned by Alipay. In only a year, the number of applets mounted to over a million with 500 million-plus monthly active users and 40% 7-day retention rate. After connecting with Alibaba apps like Taobao, Tmall, UC, Gaode Maps, Ding Ding, Ele.me and Tmall Genie, it has been upgraded to Ali Mini Program. It is behaving especially well in markets outside first and second-tier cities.
The applets which zoom in on everyday service and commerce are used in offline payment scenarios. The closed loops of service can be completed with the applets since sectors like administrative affairs, new retailing and everyday service suit extremely well with the Alipay Mini Program eco-system. In addition, Alipay’s full-fledged credit rating system also enables merchants to provide services like rent without deposit. Thus, functions like Zhima Credit and Huabei facilitate creation of imaginative ways to monetize traffic.
On July 4th, 2018, Baidu Smart Programs are officially launched. They can be found by searching and can be run on all web browsers and Baidu apps. In the future, they will even support smart-home products so that developers can draw traffic and retain users. Beginning from the first half of 2019, users can access the applets by clicking results on Baidu search pages. Applets are shown before other results with the same content quality. Thus, the applets are in a highly advantageous position thanks to the billions of search traffic of Baidu.
Statistics shows that its daily active users have reached 300 million with over 300 thousand applets under 271 categories.
II. Entrances and Applications of Mini Program Platforms
Entrance: Mini Programs nearby, offline code-scanning, WeChat interface, official account connection, WeChat main interface swipe-down menu, WeChat search, Discover in WeChat, card and coupon page, etc.
Applications: mini games, local service, online industry, content e-commerce, etc.
Entrance: WeChat-Discover (left) ; WeChat-Mini Programs Nearby (right)
Entrance: Alipay search, Alipay Lifestyle, My Mini Programs, payment success page, service reminder, forwarded pages, etc.
Applications: everyday services, urban services, O2O, travel, e-commerce guides, new retail (self-service vendors), etc.
Entrance: My Mini Programs
Entrance: Baidu search, direct information flow recommendation, Baidu App main interface swipe-down menu, Baijiahao articles, landing page links; entrances are also provided in Baidu Post Bar links, Baidu Maps and third-party apps like iQIYI.
Application areas: science education, smart home, knowledge payment, etc.
III. What’s Best for you？
Three years since its initiation, many companies have gained profits from WeChat Mini Program. With the development of the industry, a new round of dividends will emerge thanks to the huge investment made by Baidu and Alipay. The emphases of different platforms vary according to their traffic entrances, so business owners need to take both their own positioning and the platforms’ emphases into consideration when choosing the best platform for their applets.
1. WeChat Mini Programs: Social Platform
The biggest advantage of WeChat lies in its nature as a social network. Its eco-system can be completed by connecting group chats, official accounts, Mini Programs, relation chains, Moments and templated messages.
WeChat Mini Programs, by design, trigger consumptions with relations and contents. Their uses are in group chats, official accounts and Moments. Thus, WeChat Mini Programs can connect developers with their users and help promote the products. The fission effects caused by social networks can help the products gain explosive popularity and reach large numbers of customers. Any need, if can be heightened on social networks, is in a good position to achieve satisfactory growth in the WeChat Mini Program eco-system. That is the main reason why mini games and e-commerce applets prospered on WeChat.
In another word, WeChat suits service-centered industries and projects the best, such as e-commerce, hotels, catering, education, travel and tourism, etc. They can leverage WeChat’s social nature and the huge userbase to promote the applets through Moments and group chats.
2. Alipay Mini Programs: Extension of Financial Service
Jing Xiandong, chairman and CEO of Ant Finance, noted many times that the company is the closest to money, service and trust. That underpins the most distinctive feature of Alipay Mini Programs.
The advantage of Alipay is prominent in financial scenarios. It aims at boosting conversion rate and transaction frequency by improving transaction service experience within Alipay, which is a different business philosophy from WeChat and Baidu. Alipay Mini Programs don’t seek to become an omnipotent operation system like WeChat, but to serve as a tech carrier where Alipay turns from a mere payment tool into a platform that provides lightweight solutions in business or everyday service scenarios. Therefore, Alipay applets are the most suitable for paying utility fees, and shopping and making payments online.
Alipay Mini Program, however, does have its drawbacks compared with the competitors. Due to its inclination in business and everyday service, it’s utilized in limited scenarios with lower frequency, which can be a bummer for business owners.
3. Baidu Smart Programs: Value Attainment
Starting from a search engine, Baidu has formulated direct links between the search results and the applets. This helps form a complete user experience that encompasses searching on the webpage and making following purchases on the applets.
Baidu, as an entrance to information distribution, geared its Smart Programs in a search-plus-information-flow model. Such access paths are of paramount importance to the applets, for they meet users’ need in a targeted way. What’s more, the Smart Program menu can be accessed by swiping down the main interface of Baidu app.
Unlike Alipay or WeChat, Baidu designed the applets as open source and took it as a strategy. In Baidu World Congress, the company built consortium with 14 apps and platforms such as iQIYI, Kuaishou, Ctrip, Bilibili, etc.
In addition to the open source cooperation, Baidu is also trying to gain profits by incorporating the applets in articles of Baijiahao accounts. Nonetheless, it may not be efficient for start-ups to insert ads in the Smart Programs due to limiting factors like content-based ad distribution.
Users may not be willing to install more than a couple of apps under the same category, since storage is limited, and they won’t often open the apps even if they have many on their phones. That’s when Mini Programs come in handy. It is even more so considering the applets are backed by the giants of BAT.
In physical stores, the offline traffic can be transformed online with the help of Mini Programs. For example, restaurants can easily develop simple applets to provide self-service ordering and food delivery service. The applets can also help merchants to learn more about their customers and complete O2O closed loops by making records of customers’ purchases.
With respect to the respective advantages of BAT Mini Program platforms, W-axis Technology can help merchants launch their applets on the three simultaneously without the need to worry about competition of traffic. The more platforms companies are on, the more customers they are able to reach.