China & the Importance of Mobile Users

For companies looking to push their products and online services in China, a mobile app might be where they need to start thinking from — or at the very least, a public WeChat account.

Unlike countries in the West, internet users of China (and the emerging economies within the Asia-Pacific region, really) primarily get their first dose of internet through the mobile phone, instead of desktop. The convenience of the mobile phone, relatively cheaper costs as compared to a full PC set-up, have all led to these people spending their time online primarily through the mobile phone instead of desktop, with mobile-users far outnumbering desktop users. Hence the rise of mobile apps, and subsequently, “super apps”.

What are super apps? These are apps that have it all — applications like WeChat may start off with serving a singular purpose (like messaging) before evolving to include a wide variety of functions, such as mobile wallets, social media, and even hosting mini-programs for third parties. Instead of downloading multiple apps, users only need one app to do many things at once. Other examples include Alipay, Meituan (food delivery service app) and more.

Even international corporations like Starbucks have adapted to the usage of super apps in China; Starbucks has a mini-program within WeChat that allows customers to send their orders for takeaways. Beyond that, the advancement of mobile payment in China, with even road-side food hawkers having their own QR codes, has enabled lots of shopping and retail activity to take place through mobile too, with more than 90% of sales having taken place through mobile devices.

This paints quite a different image from Western countries, where mobile payment takeup rate may be still relatively low, and online purchases made through desktop sites instead of mobile.

It is evident by now that to get anywhere in China, a channel through the mobile phone is quintessential, seeing the importance of the mobile consumers base. Companies outside of China should rethink their methods of advertising in the West, and consider opening public accounts on WeChat, providing third party mini programs and more.