WeChat users in China can now gift friends a Starbucks coffee via chat

Starbucks is furthering its push into China after it consummated its partnership with Tencent to introduce coffee gifting via WeChat, China’s top messaging app.

WeChat, which recently revealed it has 768 million daily users, has evolved from being a basic chat app like WhatsApp into a platform that includes e-commerce, taxi-hailing, payments and more. Gifting is already hugely popular in China, particularly around Chinese New Year. This past festive period, over 14 billion ‘red wallets’ were shared between WeChat users on New Year’s Eve and Starbucks is tapping into that behavior and boosting its brand, too.

From today, WeChat users in Mainland China — where the service is known as Weixin — have the option to send a coffee, other Starbucks drink or gift to a friend via a new setting inside their Weixin wallet. The recipient receives the gift inside WeChat, and simply shows it at a Starbucks branch to get the item.

The tie-up was first announced in December, building on an existing in-store WeChat Pay partnership, and it marks the first time that an international brand has been part of the WeChat wallet.

Beyond the benefit for Starbucks, which has bucked the trend of U.S. businesses failing in China and has plans to double its presence over the next five years, the partnership is a major coup for WeChat which keeps it competitive with key rival Alibaba.

Alibaba’s attempt to create another messaging app to rival WeChat, which is hugely influential in China, has failed, but it is doubling down on Alipay, China’s top payments service with 450 million users, to rival WeChat. Its done that by introducing additional services like local deals (through its Koubei service) and social features to the mobile payment service. The jury is still out on whether it has impacted WeChat’s march, but the socialization of Alipay hasn’t gone too well. Alibaba was forced to apologize for a naively introduced feature in November which ended with men offering to pay women for hookups.