China’s All-in-One Super App WeChat May Inspire an American Video Calling Copycat

WeChat's app and video calling is simplifying communication.

By now we all know that in an idle moment at work you can plan and pre-book your entire Friday night.

Smartphone in hand, you can video call a few friends to decide where to go and what to do, then post an all-friends bulletin to add a few more, then make reservations to a restaurant, buy some movie tickets (paying with Paypal to protect your credit card details), and even shop for a new outfit for the outing with same day delivery.

While it seems flawlessly simple to organize all this from your smartphone, you’ve actually had to jump across at least half a dozen different apps to get it all done.

In China they’d regard that as a chore.

That’s because the Chinese have access to the super-app WeChat, which does all those things and more from a single destination. It’s an all-in-one solution, and it is only a matter of time before a copycat emerges in the U.S.

Chinese Social Media

Behind the Great Firewall of China, which is home to almost a quarter of the world’s internet population, apps such as WeChat have been largely protected from foreign competition and as a result have grown enormous.

With no Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any outside app stores to worry about–even sites that aren’t directly banned, like Skype, are often slowed to the point of being useless–Chinese developers are free to learn what they can, and take what they want from the rest of the world’s best communication tools. They can then combine them into giant services that cater to the country’s 700 million internet users.

At times that’s led to blatant intellectual theft, such as the uncanny similarities between Snapchat and its Chinese equivalent, Snow. But it has also led to some cases of innovation.

The WeChat model is the best example. Created just five years ago by tech superpower Tencent, it offers text and video chat, and links users with everything from dog washers to restaurants to banks. The app has a social media aspect to it, which creates a web of shared user activity that can make anyone or anything an instant viral hit.

Such apps have encouraged levels of connection between social media and ecommerce unseen anywhere else in the world.

Social Video as Marketing

Last year cosmetics company Maybelline was able to sell 10,000 units of lipstick in two hours on the back of a live video chat by actress Anglebaby. Similarly, internet celebrity Wang Sicong was able to earn more than $45,000 from a live question and answer appearance on the app Fenda.

Those kinds of social commerce success stories are the dream of apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, that have struggled to convert social media users into buyers through the use of instant “Buy” buttons and virtual shop fronts.

WeChat, by contrast, has been so successful at turning a social video and messaging platform into a retailer that 60% of Chinese consumers consider it their “go-to” online resource for luxury goods.

That is the underlying feature that makes WeChat so desirable–it’s able to integrate apps that would take up 6, 7, or 8 different slots on a U.S. smartphone. It is the perfect example of how to monetize the online social experience.

An American WeChat

WeChat’s main rivals for the top spot on Chinese social media, Weibo and QQ, are just as successful at turning a video call into a sale. Weibo, dubbed the Twitter of China, generates 470 million daily video views, while 75% of its users say they don’t mind advertising, and 50% regularly click on popular ads.

To get that kind of advertising tolerance you have to offer a remarkable base product–one that caters to every online need you can imagine. If a U.S. video provider is going to integrate the levels of services WeChat offers, it’ll likely begin with the traditional path of acquisition.

Just as Microsoft acquired Skype to solve its video calling problem, and Facebook shelled out $19 billion for WhatsApp in order to incorporate a messaging service, so one of the big tech companies is likely to start looking eagerly at ridesharing startups, Paypal imitators, peer review sites, and other apps that link commercial businesses, such as OpenTable.

It may not be long before you can quickly access the commercial equivalent of whatever you’re discussing in a video chat without having to leave the chat app. A Skype or Facetime call could quickly spin out into a shared shopping trip with the click of a button on a menu running along the bottom of your chat window. Geolocation tech might measure the distance between two callers and offer a restaurant suggestion so you can continue to talk in person. Shared account information will allow you to exchange money, should one of you owe the other for a concert ticket. And that concert ticket would of, course, have been purchased with parties on the line, so you could all agree on a good seat.

And we’ll wonder why we ever trawled through 7 different apps to get the job done.

Subscribe to VC Daily