The Nielsen Norman Group recently wrapped up a great study involving 26 individuals in Beijing and Tangshan about their use of WeChat. Their report, WeChat: China’s Integrated Internet User Experience is well worth a read. But in case you’re pressed for time, we’ve written up our annotated highlights below.
Early on, Cheng and Nielsen (the authors of the article) point out that:
WeChat is similar with a megaportal providing access to a huge number of services. It’s almost a parallel, alternate web, whose explosive evolution seems to be rooted in two different aspects:
A huge initial adoption of the IM service and, later, of the payment ability
The scarcity of mobile-optimized sites and services on the Chinese web
The first aspect led to widespread adoption and provided a convenient substitute for credit cards (a less common method of payment in China); the second provided one (and often the only) convenient way of online access to a business or a service.
Within payments, they found that:
The majority of the payments were directed towards offline businesses or physical persons, and actual ecommerce payments were in the minority.
Despite the hype, though, they also discovered that WeChat is not the perfectly-designed digital product it’s hyped up to be:
Our user testing revealed plenty of usability problems in WeChat and the various official accounts we tested. This is no surprise…
Nor can WeChat’s success be heralded as the beginning of the age of conversational UIs (aka chatbots), because people rarely actually use that feature:
In our diary study and in the usability-testing sessions, we noticed only limited use of the text interface. In particular, some users texted back a number in response to a first message received after subscribing to a service account. They also occasionally texted back a keyword hoping to get back matching search results from that company. However, most users much preferred a menu-based interaction over the more effortful text-based interaction.