In China, you can leave home with just your mobile phone, and go about your normal daily business – paying bills, hailing taxis, transferring money to friends, reading and sharing articles, chatting with distant family members and booking appointments.
It’s not that dissimilar from a New Zealander’s typical daily experience on their smartphone. But the difference is that in China, it’s all done through one app.
The app is WeChat, and its near monopoly of all mobile activity for Chinese users – 1 billion+ of them – is spurring a tidal change in digital experience.
Looking at the larger trends in China gives us a glimpse into what the future of digital experience could be here in New Zealand – and around the world.
Lesson 1: The future of digital content is decentralised
In China, no one spends time on the websites of the businesses they are interested in. Instead, they visit the business’s WeChat profile, which provides all the pertinent information.
In New Zealand, businesses have been focusing on mobile-friendly website design for a while now, but this takes it to the next level – ditching web browsers and websites altogether to do business activity within an app.
Will we someday move away from viewing our websites as a central asset? Already we’re seeing a move in this direction, with more brands creating customised experiences in platforms like Facebook (Instant Experiences, Notes) and LinkedIn (self-publishing and SlideShare content creation).
While we may never see all of these re-centralised into a single app like WeChat, the move away from websites and onto apps is certainly one worth watching.
Lesson 2: Distributed marketplaces are the future of e-commerce
In fact, this move away from individual business websites for content consumption is impacting the way people consume products, too. In China, users favour distributed marketplaces like Alibaba.com, Amazon.com, Wish.com, and, yes – WeChat mini-shops, wherein brands can sell their goods within the super app.
Why? For one, these platforms give users a consistent e-commerce experience. Add perks like those of Amazon Prime, and it’s clear to see why users will move more and more toward these marketplaces, and why they’re taking off the world over.
Of course, this shopping will increasingly take place on apps – apps built for it, like the Amazon or Alibaba apps, and also those that were built for something else.
Take Instagram, an app designed originally for sharing photos, which has now switched onto the app-based marketplace trend and developed a shopping functionality. This functionality is expected to earn it something like $US10 billion in revenue by 2021, business analysts say.
With such a finger in so many pies, it’s no wonder WeChat is providing inspiration to the likes of Facebook outside of China.
Already, we’ve seen Facebook roll out Facebook Pay, allowing peer to peer payments in the US. There’s Instagram’s shopping functionality, and now WhatsApp has rolled out a business function, allowing consumer to business communication and business pages within the app.
Lesson 3: It’s good to have a plan
In 2017, China announced a goal to become the world leader in AI by the year 2030. In 2019, the country has arguably already achieved this – more than a decade ahead of schedule. And still, China is investing tens of billions more dollars into AI technology.
While some of this technology, like advanced facial recognition, feels uncomfortably like it’s being designed more for control than advancement, it’s clear that China has set a goal – and has a plan – for developing its technology capabilities.
So while the West won’t be taking notes on everything China is doing, these trends are certainly a good indicator of what’s possible in our digital, mobile world.