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WeChat and the rise of super apps

Inigo Barker Research Analyst

"WeChat shows that there are clear opportunities for apps to provide more local services, but few are in a position to capitalise on this."

Some of the most widely used messaging apps have added ‘local’ features to their service offerings in recent years. The services that they provide or enable on a local basis can be broken down into those that are social-based (for example, messaging services with local features or crowd-sourced review services) and those that are payment-based (for example, ecommerce and marketplace services or the ability to pay utility bills). Some local services offered by these ‘super apps’ fall under both categories; a notable example is WeChat’s ‘Red Envelope’ service. This is a P2P payment service that draws heavily on entrenched Chinese gift-giving customs. These local features are not, however, easily replicable or portable on a global scale. This comment reviews some case studies of super apps (the most ambitious of which is WeChat), discusses the associated challenges and considers whether they provide any opportunities for operators.