Three Innovative Ways to Reach Chinese Consumers

The Chinese super app WeChat is not only a superior social media tool (as I wrote here), it is also at the forefront of mobile e-commerce innovation that the West has never seen.

WeChatCommerce

As of this writing, WeChat has over 800 million users (yes, it seems that WeChat’s user base is growing by the minute). Better yet, its users are super active. An average user checks into the app 10 times a day. They are practically living on WeChat.

This has created a tremendous opportunity for brands to reach consumers. Reports indicate that brands in the fashion, watches, and jewelry categories receive an average of 7,000 views per WeChat post.

WeChat offers platforms for brands to engage in interactive and one-to-one communication, driving online-to-offline activities and encouraging loyalty. WeChat’s payment system allows brands to sell directly to consumers seamlessly. Its true potential has yet to be tapped. Continue reading

Apple: A Trend Follower in China?

It was not too long ago that Apple’s iPhone was a status symbol among young Chinese middle class consumers. They would stand in a long line before the launch of a new iPhone and spend a month’s salary just to own one.

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This has changed. According to a Financial Times article, Chinese consumers no longer buy into the hype they once did in iPhone. These days, Apple looks like “a trend follower” and is struggling to “keep itself interesting” in China.

Apple has continued losing ground as China’s smartphone market becomes increasingly competitive. iPhone sales dropped 32 percent in the second quarter, and the Silicon Valley company fell to fifth place behind Huawei and other unknown brands such as Oppo and Vivo, according to research from International Data Corp (IDC) Continue reading

It’s Time for Facebook to Copy WeChat

Many in the West have long disdained Chinese firms as copycats. Some believe that no innovation from China can be called original. Baidu looks like Google, they argue, Alibaba is a version of Amazon, and Tencent imitates Facebook.

Wrong. In the example of Tencent’s WeChat, the Chinese social media platform, Western equivalents such as Facebook Messenger, What’s App, or Twitter look hopelessly inferior.

Hand holding smart phone with abstract glowing lines concept

As I wrote two years ago, there is nothing like WeChat in the West. A super app, as some call it, WeChat is a mobile messaging board offering free video calls, group chat, and many fun features such as a shake function to link contacts with other users. Now it boasts 700 million users. Each user has a personal QR code that serves as a digital ID. Over half of users have linked their bank accounts to its mobile payment system. They can shop, hail a ride or book a hotel – right there while they are chatting with friends.

At an event in Shanghai last year, Elaine Chow, communication manager of the global digital consultancy Razorfish, demonstrated how she went about her day without her wallet. Continue reading

Will China Become the World’s Innovation Hotbed?

I am honored to be invited to speak at the Economist Innovation Summit in Hong Kong on Sept. 6, 2016.

InnovationSummitThe Summit gathers entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and industry luminaries to examine how Chinese firms have evolved from copycats to innovators, and what impact they will have on the rest of the world.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article Why China Will Lead Innovation in Social and Mobile Commerce. Clearly, Chinese firms are innovating in many other fields as well. An Economist article indicates that:

In fields from gene editing to big-data analytics to 5G mobile telephony, Chinese experts are now among the world’s best. Sunway TaihuLight (pictured), a supercomputer made using only local computer chips, is five times as fast as the best American rival…. WeChat, a social-media and payments platform with 700m monthly active users, is more useful and fun than Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp put together.

Continue reading

600 Million Consumers, 3 Emerging Trends

The Chinese economy may have slowed down, but Chinese consumers haven’t. In 2015, consumer spending increased approximately 13 percent, compared to less than 7 percent growth in GDP.

HK_consumer2_450A recent McKinsey report indicates that Chinese consumers have remained confident despite the economy slowing down. Among the 10,000 individuals surveyed by McKinsey, 55 percent expected their incomes would increase significantly over the next five years, compared to just 32 percent of consumers in the United States and 30 percent in the United Kingdom believed so.

The Chinese middle class now represents one-half of China’s population. Although they are new consumers, they are maturing and modernizing rapidly. Three characteristics are emerging: Continue reading

“The Chinese Dream Is to Leave China”

When I wrote my book The Chinese Dream eight years ago, I observed an extreme optimism and anxiety among the newly-bred middle class in China.

middle class mediocreAt that time, although many were anxious, there was still a fair amount of optimism. Even a Pew Global Attitudes Survey said that more than two-thirds of Chinese expected their personal position to improve in the coming years.

Only a few years later, things have changed substantially. According to a New York Times article, middle class Chinese are anxious to move their money out of the country. Although the government has tightened the control on capital flight, people find ways to get around the restriction. The article indicates that in the last year and half, individuals and companies have moved about $1 trillion out of the country.

And, more people are trying to leave the country:

In fiscal 2014, 76,089 Chinese were awarded permanent residency status in the United States, up by 4,291 from the previous year. Of the 10,692 investment visas provided by the United States in the 2014 financial year, 9,128 went to Chinese nationals, up about 30 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, 88 percent of Australian “significant investor visas” have been given to Chinese citizens.

More and more Chinese students are studying overseas and many of them are looking to stay abroad:

In the 2014-15 academic year, at least 304,040 Chinese students were studying in the United States, up about 110,000 from 2011-12.

The economic slowdown has certainly caused anxiety. But lack of confidence in one’s own country goes far beyond economic reasons. As I have said and written many times, without the rule of law, the Chinese middle class will never feel secure in China.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in China early this year. While attending the Stanford+Connects event in Shanghai, I shared a taxi with a Italian professor who leads the China program at Zhejiang University. Naturally, we had a discussion about China. When he learned I wrote a book called The Chinese Dream, he asked what is the Chinese Dream, and what’s the difference between the Chinese Dream and American Dream. Before I elaborated, he said something that took my breath away:

“I think the American Dream is that everyone wants to go to America; and the Chinese Dream is that everyone wants to leave China.”

Reports of the Chinese Economy’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I was baffled by why some people think a 6.9% growth for a $10 trillion economy is such bad news. The headlines were occupied by China’s economic slowdown, and what a catastrophe it might bring to the world.

quote-Mark-Twain-the-reports-of-my-death-have-been-88406To me, slower growth is long expected. It means that the Chinese economy is maturing. Even when I interviewed people in China about 10 years ago, no one had any illusion that the Chinese economy would continue its breakneck speed forever. “At some point,” many told me, “the economy will slow down.”

Now we are at that “point.” I am actually surprised that the high growth period lasted as long as it did. Yes, the volatile stock market was nerve-racking. The industrial overcapacity and high level of debt are alarming. But the government still has tools to address these problems.

For example, the New Silk Roads, or “One Belt, One Road” program, can be a way to help absorb China’s overcapacity in construction and steel. American companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Continue reading

China’s Middle Class Has Become a Major Pillar of Its Economy

The Chinese middle class, now estimated at more than half a billion strong, has become a key driver for the country’s economy.

ChineseConsumerIphone

The newly released data indicates that China’s retail sales grew more than 11 percent in 2015, despite economic slowdown. Consumer spending was one of the brightest spots in the Chinese economy, which is now $10 trillion in size, and registered a 6.9 percent growth last year.

A Bloomberg article, “Beyond the Headlines, Five Things to Watch in China’s GDP Report,” wrote:

Rapid income growth over the last decade has made Chinese consumers an increasingly powerful force, snapping up Apple iPhones, Tiffany diamonds and Toyota sedans.

Urban household incomes increased more than 8 percent, the new data shows. China also added 13 million jobs last year, exceeding the government target of 10 million, thanks to the booming service sector.

The unemployment rate was at 5.2 percent, about the same as the United States.

While investment in fixed assets slowed, the residential housing market is rebounding. The data also shows that “home-price recovery spread to more cities in December, especially smaller ones.”

All these indicate that the Chinese middle class is still growing, Continue reading

Is China’s Economy Running Away from President Xi Jinping?

China’s stock turmoil last week sent a shockwave across the globe. Many are concerned that the world’s second largest economy is on the verge of collapsing, and it may drag the rest of the world into a recession.

china-stocks-selloff-1024x576In an article by Wall Street Journal, The Consequences of China’s Stock Slide for Top Leaders in Beijing, Russell Leigh Moses pointed out that China’s top leaders have been sending conflicting messages regarding how to best handle the economy.

For example, the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, has argued that “China’s transition to a developed economy won’t happen while innovation and entrepreneurship are being stifled by too much bureaucracy; that central government oversight has given Chinese firms too little leeway in making difficult choices.”

However, China’s number one guy, President Xi Jinping, believes that “economic instability demands even tighter oversight of society, and that it’s the duty of the Communist Party to come to the rescue of citizens and companies…. Capitalism cares not for losers, only socialism can save China — and saving socialism means making sure that the Communist party is not only clean and loyal, but also willing and able to play the role of savior when the economy stumbles.” Continue reading

The Future of China’s Economy: Its Middle Class

Two Wall Street Journal articles caught my eye this morning: The Future of China’s Economy: Yuppies and Women Fuel China’s Fitness Craze. Both discuss the spending power of the Chinese middle class.

Trendy Chinese consumersIn the first article, author Laurie Burkitt wrote that China’s economy will be relying heavily on “yuppies” – young urban professionals:

According to a new study from the consultancy the Boston Consulting Group and Alibaba’s Aliresearch, richer, younger and tech-savvier Chinese will be the main drivers of growth in the country’s consumer economy going forward. Affluent consumers, shoppers under the age of 35 and Internet surfers will push China’s consumer market up to $6.5 trillion in sales by 2020.

This projection is based on GDP growth at only 5.5% (compared to nearly 7% currently). I am not surprised. For years, I have been saying that the rise of the Chinese middle class is the biggest story of our time. Continue reading