On­line agents cash in on WeChat Mo­ments

Friends serve as on­line agents for buy­ing items from over­seas

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI XUEQING in Shang­hai lix­ue­qing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Many Chi­nese WeChat users are find­ing that their Mo­ments, a popular func­tion of the mo­bile so­cial-net­work­ing app WeChat, has turned into a shop­ping plat­form in re­cent months.

From milk pow­der to fish oil cap­sules to af­ford­able luxury items such as Michael Kors and Coach bags, one can buy them eas­ily through their WeChat friends who have be­come on­line agents for over­seas pur­chases.

Quan­quan (not her real name) is a part-time on­line agent in Toronto for over­seas pur­chases. She goes to Wal-Mart or Cisco once or twice a month to buy milk pow­der and other baby prod­ucts and ships them to her cus­tomers in China who are young Chi­nese moth­ers in search of safe milk pow­ders and vi­ta­min pills for their ba­bies. Quan­quan’s cus­tomers get to know her busi­ness through WeChat Mo­ments, which al­lows its users to share pic­tures and texts with friends.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by China Youth Daily’s so­cial-sur­vey cen­ter, 67.7 per­cent of 2,356 sub­jects fol­low up­dates on WeChat Mo­ments fre­quently. The to­tal num­ber of ac­tive user ac­counts reached 834 mil­lion at the end of the sec­ond quar­ter of 2014, ac­cord­ing to Ten­cent, the owner of WeChat. It has be­come an al­lur­ing plat­form for busi­ness pro­mo­tion and has cre­ated a huge army of over­seas pur­chas­ing agents, many of whom are Chi­nese stu­dents or im­mi­grants. They take or­ders on­line, make prof­its by charg­ing com­mis­sions.

Ev­ery day Xinxin (not her real name), Quan­quan’s el­der cousin who lives in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, posts on Mo­ments pic­tures and in­tro­duc­tions of prod­ucts Quan­quan has sent from Canada. Xinxin’s WeChat con­tacts view the posts and make fur­ther in­quiries about the prod­ucts on WeChat. Xinxin take or­ders on WeChat and sends the shop­ping lists to Quan­quan, who will get the pur­chase done in Canada and mail the goods back to China.

Quan­quan charges 10 per­cent to 15 per­cent com­mis­sion for each deal. Her monthly prof­its from over­seas pur­chas­ing fluc­tu­ates be­tween C$300 ($238) and C$1,000, which she splits 50- 50 with Xinxin. For Quan­quan, a 24-year-old mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional, it’s only pocket money.

Li Jia (not her real name) also takes uses the busi­ness as a way of mak­ing petty money. She can’t tell how much money she has made since she started the over s e a s pur­chase busi­ness in Canada in Oct ober, be­cause she said that she never adds it up. The house­wife posts pic­tures of var­i­ous goods such as Coach wal­lets and Canadian gin­sengs on her Mo­ments, but only when she’s free from tak­ing care of her baby.

C ompa r ed wi t h open­ing on­line shops, WeChat Mo­ments shop­ping is bet­ter be­cause one doesn’t have to look for cus­tomers be­cause WeChat con­tacts will read it sev­eral times a day. Also, Chi­nese peo­ple be­lieve peo­ple they know would not cheat them, while un­known busi­ness peo­ple are more likely to be prof­i­teer­ing mer­chants.

Quan­quan has a Taobao store sell­ing the same prod­ucts, but most of her cus­tomers are from WeChat. Young moth­ers are par­tic­u­larly metic­u­lous about baby food and prod­ucts. They want to buy such things from some­one they know and can trust, not some un­ac­quainted Taobao store own­ers. And they bring in more WeChat con­tacts.

A num­ber of part­time on­line agents of over­seas pur­chases rely on their WeChat con­tacts to do the busi­ness. Wei Hong (not her real name) is a post­doc­toral re­searcher in Seat­tle. She has been an on­line agent of over­seas pur­chases for half a year to make some pocket money af­ter her baby was born last year. Prod­ucts made or sold in the United States have al­ways been popular with some of her friends since she went there to study in 2007. They en­cour­aged her to start the busi­ness and they are will­ing to pay the com­mis­sions.

Right now WeChat Mo­ments is her only chan­nel to pro­mote her busi­ness. She up­dates the posts three or four times a day. And Wei, a busy re­searcher and a young mother, has no in­ten­tion of ex­pand­ing her busi­ness be­yond her cir­cle of friends.

How­ever, sell­ing goods on WeChat Mo­ments has caused on WeChat Mo­ments can be ha­rass­ment to other users be­cause it lacks the nec­es­sary data and tech­niques to tar­get the right cus­tomers. “If you hap­pen to be in want of the prod­ucts be­ing pro­moted, then it’s fine. How­ever, nine out of ten pro­mo­tional posts you see may not ap­peal to you at all. Then they are ha­rass­ment. One usu­ally has limited num­ber of WeChat con­tacts, say a few hun­dred at most. It’s hard to find some­thing you want to buy on the Mo­ments of th­ese peo­ple.”

Quan­quan also has no­ticed peo­ple’s aver­sion to sales on Mo­ments. She sel­dom pro­motes prod­ucts on her own Mo­ments, leav­ing the task to Xinxin. “Most of my WeChat friends are in Canada, they don’t need to buy things from me. On the con­trary, there is the right group of cus­tomers among Xinxin’s friends.”

She said com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting fiercer in this busi­ness and the profit mar­gin less. The grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese stu­dents and im­mi­grants abroad may be partly con­tribut­ing to this sit­u­a­tion. Take Canada for ex­am­ple, Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in Canada reached nearly 30,000 in the first

three quar­ters stip­u­lates that all en­ter­prises and in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in cross-bor­der e-com­merce have to pro­vide a list of im­ported and ex­ported items to the cus­toms au­thor­i­ties. The Chi­nese cus­toms au­thor­i­ties con­duct a se­lec­tive ex­am­i­na­tion of the post packages from for­eign coun­tries. Quan­quan de­clared all the goods at the cus­toms be­fore mail­ing them to her cus­tomers, the tar­iff is pre­paid by her cus­tomers. She knows that many other agents don’t do. Declar­ing all goods will cer­tainly fur­ther re­duce their prof­its. Some agents make agree­ments with their cus­tomers be­fore­hand that if the packages are ex­am­ined out of “back luck”, the cus­tomers will pay the tar­iff. An anony­mous agent tells the re­porter that the new reg­u­la­tion makes it harder for her to make money.

She said that at­tract­ing and keep­ing cus­tomers is es­sen­tial. Her cus­tomers are mainly brought by Xinxin, who is also the rea­son Quan­quan started the over­sea­spur­chas­ing busi­ness at the end of 2013. Af­ter Xinxin got preg­nant, she asked Quan­quan to buy milk pow­der for her­self and her new born baby from Canada. Then they found there was a large de­mand for milk pow­der and baby prod­ucts among Xinxin’s friends.

Liu thinks it’s fine for peo­ple to make pocket money by sell­ing goods they buy over­seas which they think are worth be­ing rec­om­mended, but there is no fu­ture for se­ri­ous en­trepreneurs to sell goods on it.

“Ac­tu­ally a lot of sell­ers on Mo­ments don’t even re­ally know the things they are sell­ing. They get the goods from other agents whose lev­els are higher in the sales chain. They make lit­tle money and many of them have met qual­ity prob­lems of the goods they sell. You may make some money at first, but you are ac­tu­ally sell­ing your so­cial net­work at a cheap price. It’s like quench­ing thirst with poi­son,” com­ments Liu.

“More­over, WeChat highly val­ues users’ ex­pe­ri­ence. Once its users feel bad about its over-com­mer­cial­iza­tion, they will leave it. So the man­age­ment team of WeChat will step in.”

Tempt­ing users to share the posts of of­fi­cial ac­counts by of­fer­ing re­wards is banned. On Feb 15, WeChat an­nounced it would block of­fi­cial ac­counts in­volved in il­le­gal dis­tri­bu­tion.

As to in­di­vid­ual sell­ers like Quan­quan and Li, Liu sug­gests that they sell their prod­ucts in WeChat groups. Putting tar­get cus­tomers in a group and do­ing pro­mo­tion only in this group may be a way to stay longer in busi­ness on WeChat.

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