How China Is Cashing in on Group Chats
One sunny afternoon this April, a Chinese teenager nicknamed Gallen was backpacking through Bali, hunting for things to do. But he didn’t turn to TripAdvisor for crowd-sourced suggestions (too time consuming) or scroll through Instagram for local geotags (too imprecise). Instead, Gallen enlisted recommendations from other nearby tourists through a WeChat group chat organized by the online travel provider Ctrip.
The Chinese company’s virtual-tour-manager program (VTM) uses WeChat group chats—populated by other Ctrip travelers in your destination city at the same time and overseen by a Ctrip representative—to provide a real-time concierge service. Through the group chat, Gallen ended up renting a car with a local Chinese-speaking driver and spending the day with other solo travelers at Pandawa Beach on Bali’s southern coast. In early 2015, “conversational commerce” was hailed as the future of online shopping.
Back then, the term was commonly applied to tech like shopping bots and voice assistants. But the subsequent rise of private messaging suggests that group chats may actually be the secret to turning conversations into commerce. Companies across verticals in China, including travel providers, gyms, edtech startups, and parenting groups, are all leveraging private group chats to build trust, interactivity, and community into their brand experience.