New holiday custom aims to attract users
More domestic internet titans have joined the trend of sending digital red envelopes, or cash gifts, ahead of this year's Chinese lunar new year season, which begins on Friday. Handing out the free cash can attract users to online platforms and thus boost network flow to related products. [Special coverage]
Alibaba Group's online shopping platform Taobao said it will hand out red envelopes and prizes worth more than 600 million yuan ($94.8 million) as part of its sponsorship of the annual Spring Festival Gala, which is to air on Thursday night.
Alipay, Alibaba's third-party payment tool, unveiled on February 5 its Happiness Cards collection challenge, offering users a lucky draw worth 500 million yuan. It is the third year that Alipay has launched this activity and more than 140 million users had already completed the collection as of 8 pm on Tuesday.
Tencent Holding's QQ platform said that users can get red envelopes by reviewing their movements during the holidays.
More companies, such as Suning Holdings Group, toutiao.com and Amap have also joined the trend and are promoting various red envelope offerings this year.
Chinese internet firms have adopted this custom in recent years to draw users to their online payment platforms, Lu Zhenwang, an independent e-commerce analyst, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Tencent was the first company to launch the red envelope promotion ahead of Spring Festival in 2014, with Alibaba's Alipay launching a similar one in 2015.
"But this year's red envelope war is no longer restricted to Tencent and Alibaba, and does not focus merely on attracting users to mobile payment systems," said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research.
Zhang told the Global Times on Tuesday that "an increasing number of newcomers want to attract network flow to their other online products via this opportunity."
"The new types of red envelope promotions interest me and I have already begun playing with my friends," Du Gong, a resident of Zunyi, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
But some other users are not so enthusiastic. "I made a great effort to collect all the Happiness Cards on Alipay last year, but only got 1.8 yuan in the end," a 20-something white-collar worker surnamed Guo in North China's Tianjin told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Part of the reason why users are less excited about such promotions than they were in previous years is because the activities are strongly commercialized, said Zhang, and no matter how much the companies spend on the red envelopes, some people see them as just a gimmick.
"What really concerns people is that as mobile payment tools are widely used, there is a possibility that personal information could be stolen by Trojan Horse viruses embedded into the red envelope promotions," Zhang said.
During Spring Festival in 2017, 78.5 percent of China's smartphone users participated in red envelope promotions, according to a report by iiMedia.
Tencent's social media platform WeChat said a total of 14.2 billion cyber red envelopes were sent and received through the platform on the eve of lunar new year in 2017, up 75.7 percent year-on-year.
Experts forecast that this year the amount will continue to rise as the activity has already become a new custom during the Spring Festival holidays.
Apart from the popular red envelope promotion, Baidu Inc on Friday teamed up with China Central Television to launch an online system that can automatically compose couplets by using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
The system can write a pair of customized couplets within seconds according to the key words entered by users.
Tencent also launched a similar AI-based couplet composition service on Monday.
The development of AI made great steps forward domestically in 2017, and the couplet idea is likely to resonate with Chinese people, Zhang said.
"It is a great opportunity for these firms to display their progress in research, development and application of the AI industry," he noted.
AI technology will make the services more entertaining and get more users involved, Lu said, adding that new technology will continue to be introduced into the holiday activities in the future.