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EDITORIAL How embracing super apps will make you ‘metaverse-merce’ ready

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‘Super apps’ continue to offer a tantalising glimpse of what online and mobile commerce is likely to look like by the middle of the decade. These sites, popular in China, but growing in influence elsewhere, bring together a raft of mobile services into one place, often combining social media, messaging, ecommerce and payments into one place. 

In China, where WeChat and LINE dominate both the mobile and this nascent super app space, they are rapidly becoming the de facto way that younger consumers interact with brands, each other and do most of their socialising, shopping and entertainment.

Across the Chinese New Year week, which culminated in the start of the Year of the Rabbit on 22 January 2023, WeChat saw a 23% increase in the number of users of its services compared to last year, with orders for travel, catering, retail and movies increasing by 76%, 40%, 32% and 27% respectively, compared to last year.

The service also saw 4 billion ‘red envelope’ New Year’s messages sent and a 23% rise in the use of WeChat Pay to buy things – both on and offline.

This rising use of super apps is set to have a profound impact on online and mobile retail, bringing together the consumer-driven concepts of marketplaces and social commerce and combining them with that other trope of the mobile age, messaging.

The idea of using mobile messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat to engage consumers has made huge strides across the pandemic. Now more consumers than ever want to engage with brands much as they do with their friends, using over the top (OTT) messaging – WhatsApp, iMessage etc… – and social media DMs. Where this overlaps with selling online and on social is being dubbed conversational commerce and it too is set for massive growth. 

According to one study out this week, conversational commerce is already set to be worth some $39bn worldwide in 2023, growing to a staggering $135bn by 2027.

At the heart of this boom are super apps – or more accurately, the evolution of OTT platforms such as WhatsApp to become super apps that ape and perhaps even surpass what we see today on WeChat. 

Bringing together social commerce – which itself is a derivation of marketplace selling – with messaging, mobile and payments is set to be a big change for retailers. As we have seen with marketplaces, consumers are driving more brands and retailers to look at the marketplace model, if not the marketplaces themselves, to reach shoppers where they are. This is going to shift beyond just Amazon, eBay, et al and even beyond having their own retailer-run marketplaces, with the marketing and selling having to take place in new places and through new channels.

The key is engagement. Consumers, especially young ones that are starting to get their own buying power, want to be engaged and entertained, informed and talked to. They want to use the channels they already know and love. These shoppers will force retailers to adopt a more conversational commerce stance as that is where they will be. 

And it needs to happen fast. Most retailers are already failing to engage their customers, failing to measure what they do and how they act. Missing this now is only going to make it harder to catch up with the disruptor brands that do get it.

It is also vital to build this level of engagement with shoppers and to be able to adapt to new platforms and new ways of doing things as conversational commerce is both a pre-cursor to and likely an integral part of metaverse commerce (metaverse-merce? Meta-merce?) – which may sound far off, but is closer than you think.

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