Bots & WeChat of the West

Recently, a lot of companies are jumping on the bot bandwagon as they hope to catch the next big wave in tech and to realize the massive success WeChat has had in China (i.e. become the “WeChat of the West”).

The truth is that it wasn’t the chat interface that made WeChat successful, rather it was the potent combination of:

  1. ubiquitous installs with high frequency use
  2. logged in users with saved payment information
  3. lightweight interactions (don’t need to download a new app for every service)

What most people don’t realize is that WeChat actually uses web views to handle a large majority of activities. Rather than a chat app, WeChat is more accurately characterized as a web browser with proprietary JavaScript APIs for login & payment. The chat functionality is just a feature that happens to provide the incentive for users to install the app, login and use it frequently. (This maybe a bit disheartening to hear since creating bots powered by AI sounds super cool and cutting edge, while making mobile optimized websites definitely does not).


An ordering web view from KFC’s WeChat Official Account

Thus the correct way of abstracting WeChat to the West is to find an app or platform that has:

  1. ubiquitous use with high frequency
  2. logged in users with saved payment information
  3. potential for lightweight interactions with many services

The top apps that come to mind: Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Uber, Google Maps, Amazon, Kik, Telegram, Skype, & Venmo.

But, there’s no reason that the above 3 requirements have to be limited to apps - why not meet these requirements on platforms like iOS & Android via the web browser?

If the rumors of Apple Pay for web are correct, we could be on the verge of a massive sea change. Imagine, a near future where using mobile Safari, iOS users could login and pay at any website just with the credentials stored in Apple Pay + Keychain and authenticate securely using their thumbs via TouchID. Similarly Android users could browse on mobile Chrome and login and pay at any website with their Google Account via Android Pay.

The mobile browsers on iOS and Android hit all 3 requirements:

  1. Ubiquitous high frequency use - check
  2. Logged in users with payment information - check
  3. Lightweight interactions with many services - check

Where does that leave Western chat apps? Probably relegated to value add activities like talking to customer support and getting notified by businesses in realtime, which is actually a great idea, but clearly operates at a much smaller scope that “conversational commerce.”


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