WeChat, QR codes, and touch displays: they’re all an essential part of the consumer’s omnichannel experience in China, the world’s largest retail market. Recently while on a business trip to China, I had a chance to witness firsthand how consumers in Shanghai comfortably navigate an integrated digital/physical world by using those three technologies. Spending time in Shanghai is always instructive because this city of 24 million people is a bellwether consumer market. My visual diary, below, offers a glimpse at the future as seen through present-day Shanghai. I walked away from my visit better appreciating how important it is for brands to design experiences rooted in customer empathy.

I visited Shanghai after spending a few days in Sanya, China, attending the annual Moonshot by Pactera Digital management kickoff meeting. On my way back to Chicago, my colleagues and I connected through Shanghai, as culturally vibrant a place as any we’ve visited. Here is what we observed through some informal research watching how people in China navigate their days with technology:

Trend 1: WeChat is the Top Dog

Whether creating branded microsites to feature content and messaging in an engaging way, selling products through a WeChat store, or tying loyalty programs into the WeChat experience, every major brand in China is experimenting with the WeChat platform. The core use cases I observed are around completing purchases at point of sale through WeChat Pay and for general customer engagement (e.g., “follow us on WeChat”).

At the point of sale in a Brooks Brothers store, a customer can scan a QR code to follow the Brooks Brothers account on WeChat, subscribing to branded content and messaging.

A local Starbucks provides the ability to pay for Starbucks products by scanning one’s WeChat Pay QR code at point of sale. 

The TV in my hotel room welcomed me to Shanghai — and asked me to follow their brand on WeChat. 

I’m fascinated by exploring how WeChat can deliver lovable experiences through a bundled platform. In the United States, mobile experiences are often unbundled. Think how Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Venmo, Uber, Skype, Yelp, etc., all exist as separate apps. But in China all of these app-like experiences are accessed through a bundled experience (WeChat). For more insight: A16z recently conducted a podcast that discusses the bundling/unbundling debate as well as design trends in China.

My take: every brand needs to experiment with what lovable omnichannel experiences mean using the WeChat platform. What’s lovable for one brand might not be so for another. Therefore, brands need to adopt a customer-centric way to explore how WeChat can add value and delight in the lives of their customers. For additional insight, check out a recent L2 article that sums up the opportunity WeChat offers brands: “WeChat is… Everything, and More.”

Trend 2: QR Codes are Everywhere

This news might come as a surprise to Americans who never adopted QR codes: QR codes are plastered on everything in Shanghai – literally, everything.

A QR code inside (every) shoe at a Nike store:

Inside trains: 

On storefronts:

On advertisements:On bikes:

On the front of trains: 

Even on the backs of airplane seats:

In my experiences in China, QR codes are the main way for stitching together the physical and digital worlds. But why so many QR codes, especially when they’ve taken root in other countries, such as the United States? To answer the question, I did what felt natural: got “out of the building” and asked people. A colleague of mine based in Shanghai provided this take on why QR codes play a prominent role in the Chinese consumer’s journey. My colleague explained that QR codes are inextricably linked to WeChat. “The QR code is the only precise way to find a WeChat official account,” he said. He mentioned that payment apps in China use QR codes and that QR codes constitute a great way to bring people from an offline to online experience because domains are often too difficult to remember in China.

My colleague’s comment reflects the insights and research I collected. The popularity of WeChat is definitely the Number One reason for the ubiquity of QR codes. The fact that scanning QR codes is the main way for people to connect with each other on WeChat means that the process of scanning QR codes is familiar to the typical WeChat user.

It’s quite possible that Facebook might pull off the same type of experience in the United States, by the way. As reported recently, Facebook recently added a feature that makes it possible for Facebook users to scan personalized QR code to unlock rewards when they make purchases in stores.

Trend 3: Self-Service is on the Rise

I noticed quite a few examples of brands experimenting with self-service apps and touch displays in store. The experiences vary greatly from brand to brand, some focused on getting customers on the path to purchase (see Sephora’s example below), and others focused on community engagement (see Nike).

Dyson touch display within a Sephora store – the experience focuses on exploring the product (hair dryer) and getting customers on the path to purchase. 

Interactive touch displays showcasing the various Nike communities – the Nike Running Club, Rise Academy, Nike Training Club, and the Jumpman brand.

The experiences that I observed still have a way to go before they feel innovative. Although there are some interesting examples around the world as well as research into the psychology behind their growing popularity, the experiences that focus on customer utility will gain the most traction.

Customer Empathy

I believe that the challenge of helping customers complete a task and provide delight in the process comes down to gaining empathy. Ideation is informed by observation, and observation is enriched by empathy. What may seem intuitive or easy from my perspective is not a given for another person in a different context. We are all shaped by the emotional, social, economic, and political norms of the society in which we live. And as such, certain behaviors and ways of working are born from this context.

I’m fascinated with how consumers in China, when faced with the same core tasks to be done as people all over the world, complete them via digital in ways that are completely different than how we do things in the United States. Need evidence? When is the last time you scanned a QR code? How “lovable” was the last experience you had with a kiosk?

At Moonshot we’re inspired by gaining empathy and having a deep understanding of the emotions behind what drives people to make decisions. A deep understanding of empathy and emotions is what powers our MLP mindset. After my latest trip to China, I’m more convinced than ever before that brands must approach every problem and opportunity with empathy in order to deliver value to the humans that support the brand by buying their products and services. We have a proven process for how to explore the opportunities of ambient experiences and systems of intelligence in a customer centric way that produces lovable experiences. Contact us to learn how we can do the same for your brand.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product