Field report digitization in China - Summary

Jürg has been to China and looked at the digital trends there

First time in my life in China. My spontaneous, subjective impression after one day in Beijing (Forbidden City and 789 Art District), one day visiting companies (Baidu, 7Fresh and Meituan) and two lectures (Matthew Brennan and Rui Zhang). The obvious about China, like the impressive size of the market, I leave out the obvious. So to the following topics:

  • Desktop and credit card skipped
  • Face recognition is the new password
  • The Snappers
  • Willingness to take risks and attitude to work
  • Attitude towards personal data

Desktop and credit card skipped

Western access to online via "computers" and payment by credit card or against invoice/direct debit has never existed for the billion-dollar Chinese market. The first (and only) device was the mobile phone, and at that time, about 5 years ago when growth began, there was already a payment system in place. I could write about this for a long time and since a Chinese bank account is usually connected, no one in a group of over 30 Swiss people has managed to activate any local service. We are a fringe group.

Payment is made by mobile phone, no matter what. Different numbers are cited (67% of all payments in shops are made from a mobile phone), but if you walk around the world with your eyes open, you will recognize this reality. It is interesting to note that the spread has begun among small street vendors in the form of P2P payments, for example for street food. The interface is QR codes (which beggars also ever have in the version of WeChat Pay and Alipay) and although iOS is estimated to account for 20% of smartphones, says one of the statistics: Apple Pay 0%.

Grafik prozentualer Anteil Bezahlmethoden in China
Source: Namics

And everything else is mobile, no matter what. No company would come up with the idea to offer their services for the desktop (the word seems to me very unwieldy right now), because there are no users. Everything is mobile. mobile and mobile. ALL.

An artifact of this is also the insignificance of e-mail, which is estimated to account for 20% of electronic communication. The rest is chat, also in business and it is quite common that the boss calls in at midnight on WeChat...

Face recognition is the new password

A detail, but very striking to me. Face recognition in public places is "quite normal". This is also true for payment, for example at the self-checkout in the supermarket or for fast food at Kentucky Fried Chicken. But also for access control to buildings, for example at Baidu headquarters or at passport control at the airport. Without PIN, password or anything else and technically relatively simple with inexpensive stereo cameras.

Zutrittskontrolle in chinesischem Flughafen mithilfe von gesichtserkennung
Source: Namics

The superapps

A term that appears again and again and is not so easy to explain. In China there are a handful of apps that "can do everything", a prominent example of this is WeChat. We are used to one app per topic: one for card, one for taxi, one for payment, one for access, one for chat... Not so in China, WeChat is a container in which everything I can imagine on my mobile phone and in my life runs: Exactly, a superapp. (article: "How WeChat became China's everyday mobile app")

Willingness to take risks and attitude to work

The companies are putting their foot down and so are their employees. So I asked Meituan about employee turnover. The first answer was one year. The next person then corrected it to two years remaining in the same company, which according to them was normal for China. And working time? 9/9/6. From 9am to 9pm on 6 days a week, but most people work more. I see.

When I hear company stories, the picture fits together. Reminds me of "Dog Years". (Again) Meituan in a Nutshell: Founded 8 years ago as a clone of Tripadvisor for restaurant reviews. Then Food Delivery (today over 20 million meals per day) but also ERP for restaurants, loans for restaurant operators (you know the flow of money), delivery from supermarkets to restaurants or to private individuals, bicycle rental, self-propelled vehicles, drones etc. And this year IPO with a market capitalization of over USD 4 billion. After eight years!

Attitude towards personal data

All companies proudly tell us how they aggregate user data to derive actions. And in a level of detail that makes us feel slightly dizzy, like Baidu, for example. "We know what products you are interested in, where you work and where you live, where you stay at night, what education level you have, what income class..."

Or at the airport on arrival. Before I go through passport control, I have to register all my fingerprints. These are later checked and correlated with passport number and the biometrics of my face. When I change money, the serial numbers of the bills given to me are correlated with my passport number... "for your own safety".

The people I've approached barely understand the reason for my question. It is a service to the community and as long as I behave well, it will be useful... I abstain from another comment and refer again to my slight dizziness.

What does that mean for us?

First of all, respect for the performance of China! For those who feel comfortable and safe here, I would recommend opening your eyes and ears.

At the same time, many of the recipes for success are not culturally applicable in our country, so we don't have "Red Envelopes" (nice story of WeChat Pay), nor do we have the handling of personal data and biometrics.

But there will be more and more demanding digital processes, more mobile and I wish for more speed and more joy in experimenting with us every day.

More later, I'm on my way to Shanghai right now.