POV: Starbucks Social Gifting Launches on WeChat


This Valentine’s Day, love and coffee joined together on WeChat as Starbucks launched “Say It With Starbucks” in China - the first branded social gifting experience on China’s most popular app.

Details and implications:

For the very first time, WeChat enabled a fully branded experience with its Wallet functionality, giving users the ability to send their friends a cup of coffee through the app.

After clicking the Starbucks icon on the Wallet page of WeChat, users are taken to a Starbucks designed HTML5 site where they can select a preferred virtual gift card to go along with a coupon for free cup of coffee, then instantly send it to a WeChat friend. Upon receipt of the message on WeChat, the friend simply visits their local Starbucks and displays the QR code coupon for scanning. The entire process is completely seamless within the WeChat application and takes a matter of seconds.

While the Starbucks branded icon in the Wallet will only last for a limited time, the functionality will remain on Starbucks’ official WeChat account. So far there’s no specific data on the total number of coffees sold, but given WeChat’s 846 million monthly active users and the Valentine’s Day launch, it’s a fair bet that the sales impact will be significant.    

The Essential Emotional Component

It is often difficult for marketers to take advantage of WeChat’s incredible stickiness with users – but Starbucks has tapped into the emotional key that drove the successful launch of WeChat Pay in recent years across the country.

Three years ago, WeChat launched its mobile payment solution by digitizing one of China’s longest running traditions – the giving of red packets filled with money during Lunar New Year. Since then social gifting with WeChat Pay has become mainstream, including Valentine’s Day – with users sending red packets in numerical amounts that have significance in Chinese. Example amounts include 520 RMB, or 1,314 RMB, each number sounding like ‘I love you’ and ‘Forever’ when spoken aloud in Chinese.

Starbucks has taken the new custom to a new level by including actual gift cards with multiple themes – a concept that should resonate with attention hungry netizens. These themes range from standard messages like ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ and ‘Thank You’ to a rainbow colored ‘Have The Courage To Love’.


WeChat has selected the perfect partner to launch a branded execution of its Wallet functionality. The combination of Starbucks’ immense distribution and attainable luxury status in China has created a partnership certain to generate both social buzz and sales. We can expect this to be just the first in a long line of co-operative brand partnerships that finally deliver strong impact for both the social platform and brands. However, whether other instant messaging apps such WhatsApp and Kik will also include this functionality in the future remains to be seen.