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WeChat Eyes UK for Next Cross-Border Ecommerce Push

Steep challenge since UK not really on Chinese shoppers’ radar

April 4, 2017 | Marketing | Retail & Ecommerce

Chinese social networking powerhouse WeChat will open an office in the UK next month in an effort to boost the number of British brands available to users of its platform.

“We are expanding to the UK next month with a plan to open up direct operations in other European countries next year,” Andrea Ghizzoni, European director of WeChat parent firm Tencent, told the Financial Times.

The move would make the UK the second market in the region where WeChat has sought to get more brands on board after doing the same in Italy.

In addition to UK brands selling directly to WeChat using consumers in China, where most of the messaging app’s more than 750 million daily active users reside, WeChat plans to offer China’s users the option to use WeChat Pay, its mobile payment system, to pay for purchases in Europe, according to the FT.

While this all sounds like a potential bonanza for brands and retailers in the UK looking to do cross-border selling into China, studies haven’t shown much demand for British goods among shoppers in that country.

An International Post Corporation study of cross-border digital buyers in select countries across Asia-Pacific found that the UK was a top five destination among cross-border digital shoppers in Australia, Japan and New Zealand. But the UK failed to make the list of favorites among respondents from China. Buyers surveyed had bought physical goods online in the three months prior to polling in October 2016 and had made a cross-border online purchase in the past year.

Countries from Which Digital Buyers in Select Countries in Asia-Pacific Have Made Cross-Border Digital Purchases, Oct 2016 (% of respondents)

The UK also failed to rank in a PayPal and Ipsos study from October 2016 that surveyed adult internet users in China about the countries or regions they had made a cross-border purchase from in the past year. Like the IPC study, France was the only country in Europe to appear among the top five.

With results like those, UK brands contemplating WeChat’s program may need to work hard to boost their appeal among a consumer base in China whose familiarity with British brands may not go much deeper than Burberry plaid and Scotch whisky.

—Cliff Annicelli

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