Long story short: If you searched for this topic and stumbled upon this blog post, chances are that you are already aware of the large consumer base and purchasing power in Mainland China. There are more than 1.3 billion people living the country (and 50 million overseas Chinese). In additional to the sheer number alone, Chinese people are educated from a very young age to have the mindset of constantly learning from childhood to adulthood (学无止境)。
However, for companies and educational institutions to reach Chinese consumers is proven to be a challenging path, largely due the fact that most Chinese consumers operate on mobile phones and require payments using WeChat Pay and Alipay.
Both WeChat Pay and Alipay are originally designed for Chinese citizens who reside in China. The exceptions apply to foreign workers with proofs of temporary or permanent residency (who are then allowed to open bank accounts in China and connect those accounts to WeChat pay).
Since 2019, AliPay has made it possible for foreigners to pay for goods and services in China using foreign credit cards and bank account. This article explains how you can do it.
However, in order to set up an official or merchant account for your company to accept payments in China is a whole other story.
In short, here’s what you need to consider when sending courses (or services and products) to Chinese consumers:
- You need to build a website or use a third party website that’s accessible in China (and not blocked by the Chinese internet firewall)
- You need a way to collect payments through WeChat Pay or Alipay (very few Chinese people have the habit of using credit cards)
How to sell courses in China?
1. Selling courses through platforms such as Teachable or Thinkific
This is the easiest integration because Teachable and Thinkific both integrates with Stripe. Stripe (https://stripe.com/docs/sources/wechat-pay) integrates with WeChat Pay. You do NOT need to set up WeChat Pay. Instead, Stripe handles the payment using their own official WeChat Pay account, and you’ll collect revenue through Stripe without the need to establish your own WeChat Pay account. This is a major time-saver.
There’s a transaction fee with Stripe integration with WeChat Pay (similar to other payments through Stripe): https://stripe.com/pricing
It’s challenging and unpredictable to get around the firewall in China. So far Teachable and Thinkific have been free from it, but we can’t say this will be the case indefinitely (which can be frustrating for companies and people who invest in this effort)
For Chinese consumers to access content through Teachable and Thinkific still means that they are accessing content through foreign websites. Hence the download speed may vary. The majority of the Chinese households have high-speed internet.
How fast can they access content in mainland China, and what types of content? According to people’s feedback via this Quora article (https://www.quora.com/How-good-is-the-internet-speed-in-China), “It depends on what you are trying to access. It is blisteringly fast if you are surfing Chinese content – typically around 100Mbps for a wired connection and about 50Mbps on LTE. On the other hand, if you try to access, for example, American content, even if it is not blocked, it can be painfully slow.” (Reply written in July 2017)
Since I travel to mainland China often, I have seen significant improvements in internet speed in general. However, if your course has mostly video content (and if the videos are high definition and quality), your consumers will likely experience a slow-down which may result in frustrating customer service requests.
2. Create a mini WeChat program (WeChat native app)
A popular development partner in China is called Weimob, to register for an account https://account.weimob.com/register
They offer a SaaS version (software as a service), white-label solution to create your own WeChat mini program. The out-of-the-box solution offers templates you can adapt and use for your course. While this type of solution is easy, convenient and often much cheaper to use, it does come with constraints in terms of modifications. This type of solutions typically starts at 20,000 RMB (or about $3,000 USD). To get started: https://console.weimob.com/#/app/solution/list
Alternatively, building a WeChat mini program from scratch is a lot more costly.
Here are the considerations whether WeChat mini program will or will not work for you:
- The sign up process – as well as working in the SaaS platform requires proficiency in Chinese
- In order to collect payments, WeChat Pay needs to be set up (if you aren’t living in China or do not have a residence permanent, it’s going to be challenging if not impossible)
- WeChat mini program often requires the creation of a WeChat official account for your company/entity. This isn’t a straightforward process but can be done.
3. Selling courses and content through a China-based learning platforms
This option is best for content with Chinese translations and English captions. It’ll also require the person in charge of your content to be have proficiency in the Chinese language. In some cases, this option requires your company to have an entity in China.
Option 1. Tencent Classroom
A popular classroom/online learning platform in China is called Tencent Classroom: https://ke.qq.com/agency/personal/intro.html. Tencent Classroom (or Teng Xun in Chinese) allows you to sign up as a student or a teacher.
To sign up as a teacher, you will need a QQ account (search for QQ in your mobile app and follow up the instructions to sign up for an account). Currently as of late 2019, Tencent Classroom doesn’t allow WeChat login for teachers.
Down side – Tencent Classroom is a very Chinese language centric platform with little to no English courses. Hence if your course requires English proficiency, Tencent may not be the best entry point to reach the Chinese consumers. Furthermore, Tencent Classroom requires an active QQ account for you to sign up as a teacher. QQ’s mobile app is challenging to use (compared to WeChat) and it’s entirely in Chinese.
Option 2. Study 163
Another popular platform is similar to Tencent called https://study.163.com/. The courses offered on this platform focus on design, career advancement, programming, etc. I didn’t see many related to arts and music. Study.163.com does offer. Users are able to log into this platform using QQ, WeChat and more.
Study.163.com offers teachers and organizations to create courses. However, the application process is entirely in Chinese and an approval process is required before a course is made available. https://study.163.com/cp/introduction.htm
Based on the application process, it appears to be that this platform is geared towards teachers/instructors based in China and Chinese organizations
Option 3. Open Courseware
https://open.163.com/ocw/ (open courseware)
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