WeChat’s EU and US expansion about to get more aggressive

31 Mar 2017

WeChat. Image: Chonlachai/Shutterstock

Chinese messaging giant WeChat has entered Europe, with a UK office planned and approaches already made towards major service providers.

Conversational commerce – the ability to do business with someone by just chatting to them in a messaging app – has been expanding at different speeds throughout the world in recent years.

While Facebook slowly added chatbots to Messenger in the US for example, WeChat, was ploughing way ahead in China with dozens of tools allowing people to pay bills, send each other money, or buy products and services without leaving a chat.

WeChat’s immense functionality was something that was inevitably going to spread, but it was never clear if it, or a rival, would bring such services to Europe and beyond. Now we know.

The company, owned by Tencent, is seeking to open two new EU offices to complement its Italian presence, with the UK confirmed as one of the new locations, according to Bloomberg.

Elsewhere, it is keen for US growth, with a Tencent office already based in San Francisco. According to the report, the company is looking to grow its WeChat team in the US, targeting advertisers and payments providers.

“We needed to make a step closer in serving European brands,” said Andrea Ghizzoni, Tencent Europe director.

WeChat is eyeing A-list brands to join the fold, with Burberry and Chanel already involved. The idea will be that users can purchase these companies’ products without having to visit their websites.

The UK is an obvious choice for WeChat due to Chinese tourism figures. Goldman Sachs estimates that 220m Chinese tourists will travel overseas by 2025, up from 120m in 2015.

Last year Google, Facebook, Oracle and Amazon upped their interest in this field.

Google snapped up API.AI, a natural language and speech recognition company, while Facebook used the release of Messenger Platform v1.2 to permit developers to build capabilities that allow businesses to “drive engagement, build retention and facilitate meaningful relationships with people”.

Rather than buying out conversational commerce start-up Angel.ai, Amazon opted it for its leader, with Nick Hadzaad now ‘head of new bot products’ at the company.

At Oracle OpenWorld last September, Oracle CTO Larry Ellison showed how his company’s tools could help the likes of Facebook Messenger in future with its conversational commerce model.

WeChat. Image: Chonlachai/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic