Starbucks China Vice President of Digital Ventures Molly Liu updates shareholders on the Mobile Order and Pay in China including the Say It With Starbucks gifting program. [Image Source: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images]

Starbucks launches social gifting feature on WeChat in China


In February, Starbucks officially launched a new social gifting feature called “Say it with Starbucks” on WeChat — a popular Chinese messaging app with 846 million global monthly active users. This strategic partnership, first announced in 2016, allows WeChat users to digitally send Starbucks-brand products to their friends and family, while also enabling in-store payments at the coffee chain's physical locations in China with the WeChat Pay mobile wallet.

Starbucks is one of the most successful retail brands in China, opening its first store in Beijing in January 1999. The company has since gone on to expand its count to 2,382 stores across 118 mainland Chinese cities, the country with the third most Starbucks stores worldwide. As Starbucks looks to China for its next growth wave, digital initiatives are key elements for gaining popularity in the region. Social commerce is immensely popular in China and the partnership with WeChat could help Starbucks drive revenues in the long run.

Following the Starbucks trial, fashion chain H&M, which has more than 300 stores across mainland China, is looking into mobile payment systems. Ikea China is also in the process of conducting trials of mobile payments in its mainland stores.

As key trading partners and the world’s two largest economies, the US and China share a mutual interest in promoting economic prosperity. China is currently the second-largest goods trading partner of the US with $598 billion total in 2015. It is also the third-largest export market for the US, and biggest source of imports. According to Oxford Economics, US exports to China directly and indirectly supported 1.8 million new jobs in the US and $165 billion in GDP in 2015.

The US-China relationship goes far beyond trade. Last year, 3.1 million Chinese tourists visited the US, contributing an estimated $24 billion to the US economy, making China the fourth largest source of international travelers to the US. On February 29, 2016, the US and China launched the 2016 US-China Tourism Year in Beijing to maximize the mutual economic and social benefits of increased international travel. Additionally, the US has over 200 sister relationships with communities in the China. Thirty-five US states have at least one sister linkage with China, and 29 Chinese provinces have at least one partnership in America.

Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. and a graduate student at Georgetown University.