After the past three years of growth, instant messenger WeChat's red packets－or hongbao in Chinese－have become one of the most prevalent and popular aspects of the Spring Festival.
According to statistics provided by Tencent Holdings Ltd, the provider of the WeChat services, on Thursday, 46 billion red packets were sent and received during the six days from lunar New Year's Eve to the fifth day of the first lunar month (Jan 27 to Feb 1), up 43.3 percent year-on-year.
The Lunar New Year's Eve was the peak for the red packets, when a total of 14.2 billion red packets were sent and received on that day, up 75.7 percent year-on-year. A man in Shenzhen sent a record high 2,125 red packets on the day, while another man in Binzhou in eastern China's Shandong province got the most red packets, receiving 10,069 red envelopes.
People in Guangdong were the most generous, sending and receiving 5.84 billion red packets during the surveyed six days. Jiangsu ranked the second on the list, with 2.93 billion red packets, followed by Shandong, Hebei and Zhejiang.
WeChat found that the younger generations, those born in the 1980s and the 1990s, make up the majority of hongbao senders.
Tencent did not launch any advance marketing campaign for this year's red packets activity.
WeChat President Zhang Xiaolong said it should not directly be involved in too many festive occasions because it is essentially a tool.
Zhang also said that the mission of promoting WeChat Spring Festival red packets had already been completed in the past few years, including working with the Spring Festival gala show of the China Central Television.
Apart from the red packets, WeChat stickers especially designed for the Spring Festival and video calls, have also become the two major ways to express people's wishes to their friends and relatives. During the six surveyed days, a total of 16 billion WeChat stickers were sent with blessings.
WeChat, Alipay announce end of 'red envelope war' before Chinese New Year
President of Weixin Group Zhang Xiaolong confirmed that no WeChat marketing campaign involving virtual "red envelopes" will be conducted during the 2017 Chinese New Year, saying the absence of such a campaign will allow people to spend more time with their families.
The WeChat red envelope program, a method of sending virtual cash gifts, was launched during the 2014 Chinese New Year, the first of several market competitors to roll out such a service. The program soon gained popularity, making digital cash-giving a popular trend during the festival. In order to win a larger share of the mobile payment market, WeChat and Alipay even started a high-profile financial battle. Currently, the number of active WeChat users has surpassed 800 million, while Alipay has 450 million formally registered users.
However, both companies have proclaimed the end of their red envelope battle, beginning in 2017.
"People are supposed to spend more time with their families during Spring Festival, rather than playing with their mobile phones," said Chen Guanhua, chief of Alipay's red envelope project.
However, the end of the red envelope war does not mean the end of program upgrades, since the red envelope function is still an effective way to increase customer loyalty. Now, both companies have released augmented reality (AR) red envelope services. To collect an AR red envelope, users have to reach a specified offline location and scan a designated object. This will make the experience more fun and novel, the companies hope.
Insiders believe that in the wake of the red envelope war, WeChat and Alipay will be more innovative in their product design.
WeChat daily active users top 768 million
The usage of popular messaging app WeChat continues to expand, with the number of daily users exceeding 768 million in September, up 35 percent over the same period last year, according to a year-end report on WeChat released by the Chinese technology giant Tencent on Wednesday.
The report, which unveiled a series of key figures of the most popular messaging app in China, said 50 percent of WeChat users spent 90 minutes on the application every day.
Typical WeChat users are those born in the 1980s and 1990s, accounting for 65 percent of the overall users, and have sent 80 percent of the total messages.
Youngsters aged between 17 and 21, and seniors over 55 years, are responsible 14 percent and 1 percent of overall population on the app, according to the report.
Overall messages sent through the app in 2016 surged by 67 percent over last year. Typical WeChat users sent 74 messages on the daily basis, while seniors over 55 years sent 44 messages every day.
The use of voice chat and video chat functions on WeChat reached 100 million daily calls this year, up 180 percent from 2015.
The report said typical WeChat users walked 5,900 steps daily, while seniors above 55 walked 6,700. WeChat users sent out on average of 28 "red envelopes" on the app every month, with an average amount of 580 yuan ($83).