CHINA. The Chinese social networking site WeChat offers innovative opportunities for travel retailers to sell to customers even outside the airport, argues a writer from Azoya Consulting for Jing Daily, a content partner of The Moodie Davitt Report.

Travel retail players around the world are gearing up for Chinese New Year as millions of Chinese plan to travel overseas. Figures from Ctrip, a Chinese travel-services provider, show that about 6.5 million Chinese tourists went overseas during last year’s Chinese New Year.

WeChat enables travel retail players to reach Chinese outbound tourists with many features that make it a powerful marketing platform. Photo: Shutterstock

WeChat is a powerful tool to help travel retail players market to and retain outbound Chinese travellers. Its billion-plus user base, social media features and marketing and CRM tools constitute a platform perfect for cross-border travel retailers.

Now, with the development of cross-border WeChat shops, these companies can sell to Chinese travellers even after they go home. This could take the travel retail industry to a new level.

The importance of WeChat marketing in travel retail

Travel retail is important to brands because many foreign brands in China are first discovered overseas before becoming popular in the China market.

Travel retail is also important for branding because the products’ foreignness conveys a sense of quality and exclusivity. This is because some of the products cannot be found in China.

WeChat enables travel retail players to reach Chinese outbound tourists with the aid of official accounts — an official brand page that can push marketing content and promotions to followers — as well as features that make it a powerful marketing platform.

Here’s how WeChat can be used to market to a typical outbound tourist visiting an international department store:

Pre-trip: brand education and awareness

  • International department store pushes a combination of WeChat advertising and content through its official account to reach Chinese tourists.

Arrival: location-based advertising

  • International department store pushes location-based WeChat ads to remind the tourists to visit.

At Store: Check-Out / Payments

  • Tourists use WeChat Pay to make a purchase. Using WeChat Pay automatically subscribes customers to the brand or retailer’s WeChat account.

Departure: post-sales marketing and subsequent purchases

The brand or retailer continues to push WeChat marketing content to the tourist. The tourist is enticed by a new product and makes a purchase on the retailer’s other channels in China, such as the retailer’s own site or Tmall Global, a B2C platform of the Alibaba Group.


WeChat plays a crucial role in helping brands market to and retain Chinese customers.

WeChat also connects retailers and Chinese customers through its CRM features. Even if customers do not make a purchase, retailers can still obtain their WeChat information so that they can continue to connect after they have left the store.

This online activation gives retailers a key advantage over pure offline players. However, this is not a closed-loop process: customers have to move to a separate channel to make purchases back home, which makes it difficult to track and retain customers.

As an example, the picture below shows Japanese pharmacy chain Takeya using WeChat QR code links to convert offline traffic to online WeChat followers.

Afterwards, its WeChat official account continues to push marketing content and promotions. This way, its customers will make purchases through Takeya’s cross-border e-commerce site when they’re back in China.

Customers can scan QR codes to follow Takeya’s WeChat account. Photo: Azoya Group

DFS Group’s WeChat mini-program goes further

DFS Group has taken its WeChat presence further by building an innovative online-to-offline (O2O) mini-program store.

Customers can pre-order goods and prepay for them on the mini-program for pickup later at the nearest DFS store. This reduces crowding and long queues.

The below diagram demonstrates how DFS uses WeChat Moments ads to reach customers, who then progress to its mini-program store and make purchases with WeChat Pay. The user can choose from three DFS locations in Hong Kong to pick up his or her goods.

The diagram explains how retailers can use WeChat to advertise and sell directly to customers.

Cross-border WeChat stores can help travel retail players branch into cross-border ecommerce

The next step for a retailer such as DFS could be to adopt cross-border shipping capabilities, after which the retailer can sell to Chinese customers through cross-border ecommerce.

Mini-program stores would then form a closed loop that starts with attracting offline retail traffic, using WeChat to retain and market to those visitors and eventually making a sale through cross-border e-commerce after those visitors have returned home.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario:

  1. A Chinese tourist browses perfume store in downtown Sydney, Australia.
  2. The tourist wants to purchase a bottle of perfume but the store has run out and doesn’t sell directly in China. The tourist’s flight leaves that day.
  3. The shop assistant asks the tourist to follow their WeChat account.
  4. The tourist returns to Shanghai. Once she lands, she sees a new article from the WeChat account, reminding her about her just-missed purchase.
  5. The article links back to the merchant’s cross-border WeChat store, which is equipped with cross-border payments and shipping operations.
  6. The tourist sees that they now have her perfume in stock and makes an online purchase on the merchant’s WeChat store.
  7. The perfume is shipped from Australia to her home in Shanghai in five days.


In this scenario, not only does WeChat act as a content marketing and customer retention tool, but also as a lightweight, cross-border sales channel that makes it easy for customers to make purchases after they return home.

This is important because it takes time for customers to get to know new brands and products, but the timeframe for travel retail merchants to make a sale is often too short.

Educating and selling to Chinese customers after they return home can add substantial value. Also, it is much more likely that new brands will spread via word of mouth back home, and WeChat is a key enabler of this.

Key takeaways

1. Travel retail is where Chinese consumers discover foreign brands for the first time, and retailers use WeChat to market to them. WeChat can be used for content marketing, advertising, payments, customer relationship management and more.

2. Cross-border omnichannel strategies are beginning to emerge. DFS Group’s WeChat mini-program store now enables Chinese tourists to make purchases online and pick them up at its offline retail stores in Hong Kong.

3. Travel retail players can now use cross-border WeChat stores to sell to Chinese customers even after they return to China. This is important because it takes time for new brands and retailers to build trust with their customers and the timeframe for making purchases through travel retail is quite limited.

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*This article was originally published by the much-respected JING DAILY, a Moodie Davitt Report content partner.