I have been using WeChat for 5 months now, and I’ve been meaning to blog about what I think of it because… the app (pronounced as A.P.P. in China) plays such a huge and increasingly reliant role to me in the country.
(Not to say WhatsApp isn’t/ wasn’t for me back in Malaysia, but read on…)
If I could describe WeChat in one sentence, it would be: it’s EVERYTHING-in-ONE… it acts as a messenger, email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, payment system, news portal… with tiny, blurred differences between each of them.
And yet, in China, I do feel like I am living another
social media life altogether (despite this ‘globalized world’), because most of the Chinese do not use most of the Western apps I mentioned above. But this can be saved for another topic some other time.
WeChat is my source of solutions, and therein also lies the potential of being my source of pain.
From what I’ve read, Malaysia will be the first overseas country to be able to use the entire WeChat ecosystem (by Q1 this year I heard?) — including, of course, its awesome payment platform. Many of you may already know the brilliance of this app, but let me breakdown what it does for me.
*Disclaimer: This post is entirely based on my user experience so far, and is not conclusive of what the app is and what it is able to do (so much more)
I use it to:
Besides chatting with friends, it also serves the use of a work email. In my line of work at least, work files – be it daily and weekly agenda, deliverables, notices, etc. (word file, PDF file, excel file) – are all sent via WeChat. Their form of ‘CC-ing’ in an email thread is via WeChat.
You will even sometimes be pulled into groups with hundreds of people, where you probably only play a 0.1% role or contribution to that group. And people rarely leave a group because apparently it’s courtesy not to. So if you’re pulled into a group, you’re pretty much stuck in it for life. But not to worry – the group is just there as an inactive…existence.
And then there’s WeChat ‘moments’ – where you can share pictures, thoughts, articles, anything… you can ‘mention’ (i.e. tag) someone; you can also ‘like’ and comment on others’ moments. Who needs FB, Insta and good ol’ Twitter when you have WeChat moments?
Although, the privacy settings are different because with WeChat, you are only able to view likes and comments on your friend’s post IF you are friends with them. And while some may post everything about their lives on their ‘moments’, and some not at all, for me — I think thrice before uploading anything. Because everyone in my contact list will be able to view it, and this contact list is….. (read below)
The mother of all mother functions of the app is… its QR code function. It’s like a scanning spree, guys.
People you may not know previously, people you just met… they can become your acquaintances on WeChat. All because of this magic sentence: “Do I scan your QR code or will you scan mine?” So it’s somewhere in-between casual (i.e. FB), not-so-personal (like an online messenger somewhat) and yet personal (mobile number)… If you get my drift.
Hence you could be adding and accepting requests every other day. It can be rude to not accept sometimes because you don’t know if it’s someone from work of if it’s work-related not! And if you delete the other person from your contact list, he or she would know. It’s not like your own phone’s or WhatsApp where only you have full purview of your contacts.
But this is why I say it can be a source of solutions and pain because… Just as people get use this app to get responses from me; so can I — to get updates and to get things done. For me so far, WeChat has been useful to get answers from different people, share contacts, double check with my interviewees on facts (as the verbal interview is done in Mandarin). And they respond so fast (with emojis — Chinese style!).
Although, my question still remains: What and where is the fine line? As anyone can have access to you anytime of the day, at the end of the day it really is up to you to choose should you and when to respond… or can you? (Yes, of course you can)
I use WeChat Pay to pay 99.99% of what I need to pay in China.
From my monthly rent, meals, online shopping, that 1.50 herbal egg by the road side, Didi (linked to my app), groceries, water bills, food delivery, and mobile top-up…
Basically, everything la except for my subway card top-up – which only takes cash. I used to be given the weird eye when I wanted to pay for cash at a convenience store, but now it’s my turn to do so to the subway peeps. Jokes.
WeChat Pay also has this ‘Distribute Angpao’ (red packet) function too. During festive periods, such as Mooncake Festival, Team Building, Spring Festival, I have received these red packets (意思意思) from leaders of the company, where one chooses a certain ‘total amount’ to give away and it gets randomly distributed to a certain amount of people.
But beyond that, you can also get your REFUNDS** via this app. Like, immediately. Be it from JD.com where I usually get all my stuff, or food delivery (e le me), Didi, shops… For example, if I cancelled a food delivery order, or return a good to the seller (be it online or a physical shop)… the money will be in my bank account in no time. They usually tell you it takes one to three days. But they have been exceeding expectations thus far.
**it can go into your WeChat balance if the amount was deducted from it, or it goes into your bank account if you merely use WeChat as an ‘intermediary’
Btw, I haven’t included the usage of this when it comes to paying at unmanned convenience stores and supermarkets.
Source of information
You can ‘follow’ organizations, pages, events, activities on WeChat. They call this Subscription Accounts where you get notifications whenever these have updates.
It is here where you get your daily news, information feed, etc.
Once, there was an assignment where the PR personnel told me to just “关注” their account on WeChat to get any information I am looking for – without even bothering to even first find out what exactly I am looking for (hilarious). And of course, she did not answer my queries over the phone.
There was also once where I was reading a company’s annual report online. And in there there’s a QR code. Scanned it immediately to follow any of its updates. Have to ‘keep up with (Chinese) times’, know what I’m saying? HAHAHA
I have scanned QR codes of restaurants, cafes, salons to be a member and get discounts immediately (HEHE so Asian). But really, you can do this with any service industry I reckon.
Into my second month in China, I can already feel how this platform – while mega useful and convenient – can also be abusive, if we allow it to.
Whether you like it or not, you need to get on the app — to pay, reply your boss… and in there you get distracted by other people’s social media posts… portals you follow… Hence, people here are always hooked on their phones!
Of course, dominating headlines around the world is that of Tencent Holdings’ buying spree; and expanding the usage and breadth of its app usage beyond its payment system — to micro finance, insurance, selling of mutual funds…
I have yet to experience any of the above, but as it is now — the app is enough to overwhelm me.
At one point, admittedly, I was pretty scared of looking at my phone or this app. There were simply too many groups, too many messages.
Questions that run through my mind: Just how reliant are we on WeChat? Is there an alternative now, in the future? Comparing to days where we had ICQ, Friendster, QQ (not sure how vastly is this used still in China)… In terms of payment platforms, sure, there is AliPay, but what about an all-in-one app?
As at writing time (Feb 18, 2018), Tencent Holdings — the mastermind behind and who owns WeChat — is trading at 447 Hong Kong dollars, a 5-year high, with a market cap of 4.2 trillion HKD (over 500 billion US dollars). In the past one year, the stock has doubled.