Wechat: The Spanish who brought us the ‘Swiss army knife’ China | Talent

The Chinese have gone from charging with bundles of bills to pay with the mobile skipping the intermediate step of credit cards. The online payment sector has taken off with such force and speed that China looks in the rearview mirror at the rest of the world: when in Europe we start paying with the mobile, the Chinese already use their face to close the transactions. When Facebook or Instagram contemplated the possibility of integrating mobile payments and online stores, the Chinese laughed. They have been there for a long time.

But the market has a certain old air, because it is governed by a duopoly. Alipay and WeChat Pay account for almost 93% of all transactions that are closed in Chinese cyberspace. The first, belonging to the Alibaba group, emerged 15 years ago and, as a pioneer, enjoyed an incontestable hegemony until, in 2013, the rival Tencent launched its online payment system integrated in WeChat, the Swiss knife of Chinese cyberspace whose functions now copy the giants of the West.

Gradually, the rapid expansion of this superapp, in which its 1.2 billion users can do everything - chat, write posts, post photos, link, rent bicycles, order a taxi, and an infinite etc. -, is translating into a rapid erosion of the market share of Alipay Also, as if that were not enough, WeChat Pay has decided to follow in the footsteps of its arch-enemy outside the Asian giant and It is increasingly present in more countries. Spain is already one of them.

Álvaro Fontaneda (Madrid, 1982), vice president of Starpay, is one of the Spanish businessmen who have made it possible. Together with five other partners, one of them Chinese, he has taken advantage of the extensive knowledge acquired for more than a decade in the Asian giant and now offers Spanish businesses the possibility of incorporating a key element to attract Chinese tourists. Shops can acquire the dataphone, a kind of smartphone which reads the QR codes generated in the user's phone to close the commercial transaction, and integrate WeChat Pay both in its payment operating system - especially in the case of physical store chains - and in its e-commerce platforms. Companies such as Barceló, the UnoDe50 accessory chain, and even football clubs such as Espanyol have already joined these services.

But Fontaneda warns that the payment method is only the consequence of many other things to which even more attention should be paid. "WeChat is a social network, so the payment service is meaningless without a marketing campaign that helps position the company," he says. It is a fact closely related to the peculiarities of Chinese travelers. “A few years ago, most of those who went to Europe did so in organized groups where there was no flexibility. They visited four countries in seven days. Now, however, the group that grows the most is that of independent travelers, who go as a couple or with friends and seek experiences and deepen. It is a quality tourism that spends a lot. And that organizes everything through the apps, ”explains the manager.

This is a trend that they also perceive in Ctrip, the largest online travel agency in China, which has transcended the sale of tickets and hotel reservations thanks to a superapp WeChat style in which its users can also reserve a table in restaurants, purchase tickets for shows, or rent a vehicle. "Ctrip, next to Mafengwo -travels-, Dianping -restaurants-, or Xiaohongshu -moda-, are booming applications. But the one that guides the Chinese tourist at all times, and in which this shows his trip, is WeChat, ”adds Fontaneda.

Therefore, having a presence in the social network through an official account is essential. “Tourists visit you if they know you. In Europe we search the company's website to gain confidence; in China we look for the WeChat account, ”he adds. Therefore, Starpay also offers the application positioning service. And Fontaneda explains some curious success stories. “We went to the Botín Restaurant, which is near the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, and they told us that they didn't want to know anything about the Chinese because they spent much less than average. We were surprised, because it is usually the other way around, we did a study, and we saw that it was due to the lack of correct information in WeChat. Dishes that were not typical were recommended and the Chinese shared them, ”he recalls.

They took the restaurant as a case study, and created an official account as a test. It can be accessed with a search of the establishment or by scanning a QR code on the menu, and the recommendations that appear - with an explanation in Chinese of the history of each dish - are what have made the establishment famous. Like the piglet. Moreover, users can even choose what to eat in the app and the command is sent directly to the kitchen in Spanish. "Thus we managed to save the pitfall of the language, and the restaurant has greatly increased the amount of the average ticket," Fontaneda adds. WeChat also allows you to pay for geolocated advertising, so that users who are in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant will receive an advertisement from it.

Another of the surprises that have taken place since the beginning of summer began to offer the service is in pharmacies. “Chinese tourists are fond of buying cosmetics in these establishments. With the ads on WeChat we have managed to have businesses that previously did not receive Chinese tourists add them as customers, ”he explains. Something similar happens with niche fashion designers. “Before, the Chinese looked for the stores of the most recognized brands, such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton. They wanted to bait and save on their purchases. But, now, the difference with the price in China is much smaller and young people want to stand out with different products. This opens up a world of possibilities for smaller brands, ”says Fontaneda.

You have to meet the Chinese tourist and study their peculiarities. It is not enough to be on Google maps and have a good score on Tripadvisor, because the Chinese use Baidu Maps and Dianping. They live in a parallel Internet that is governed by completely different norms, and they also need to explain each product or brand with their cultural keys. It is not easy to achieve. "But it is worth the effort to adapt because the Chinese tourist is complementary to the rest: it travels in low season, and does not look for the sun and beach," says Fontaneda.

The objective, in addition, is not only to ensure that visitors acquire the products once they are in Spain, but to attract them even before they begin their trip. To do this, Starpay designs advertising campaigns that take advantage of influencers Chinese, introduce brands to travel itineraries, and try to build customer loyalty through special discounts and coupons they can give their friends. Of course, Fontaneda recognizes that it is difficult to calculate the return of these advertising activities. "At the moment, everyone is happy and interest grows," he replies with a smile.

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