Mobile Trends in China and Opportunities for Brands

This year China finally became the world’s largest smartphone market, overtaking the U.S. with around 420 million subscribers and seeing around 31 percent year-over-year growth. And in late 2012, the percentage of Chinese Internet users accessing the web via mobile finally surpassed that of desktop users, as you can see in the chart below.


Source: CNNIC

Let’s take a look at a few other recent stats from my agency:

  • 73 percent of smartphone users in China wake up to phone alarms.
  • 80 percent of Chinese use mobile phones while on public transportation.
  • 1 in 5 taxi drivers use the “DiDi Taxi” app.
  • 77 percent of Chinese have never downloaded paid apps.
  • 60 percent of apps are never used one week after downloading.
  • 66 percent ended a relationship by mobile.
  • 65 percent of smartphone users beautify personal photos before sharing.
  • 50+ billion app store downloads are seen globally, and one-fifth are in China.
  • 400 million registered users in 2012 for WeChat.
  • 1.5 million mothers purchase baby items on Taobao mobile each month.
  • 50 billion yuan through mobile e-commerce in 2012 (600 percent year-over-year increase).

Clearly China has come into its own in the past year and has marked some significant milestones making it one to watch moving forward. Apple CEO Tim Cook refers to China as its “second largest market” for mobile. And Baidu, the largest search player in China, has seen its stock rise 34 percent this year alone, with mobile revenues hitting record highs, accounting for more than 10 percent of its last quarterly revenues. Robin Li, the CEO, has announced plans to purchase a store for smartphone apps for around $1.9 billion, as mobile becomes more critical to Baidu’s strategy.

A look at some mobile innovations and trends happening in China: Early this year, 360buy rebranded to become in an effort to expand beyond China. already has a 43 percent share of the online B2C market in China and competes directly with Tmall. Also, it has recently purchased Wangyin Zaixian, an online payment platform to help it expand in the mobile space, where it is seeing significant growth. Through the mobile platform, users can get free same-day delivery with real-time tracking on its mobile map technology, where you can see your goods being delivered, oftentimes on a bicycle.

Taxi apps: An app called Didi allows you to say your current location within the app and where you’re going. Your message will be instantly delivered to all nearby taxis. And in a chance to secure a cab during high peak times, you can outbid others by offering extra tips in addition to the extra fare.

Mobile payments: China is showing strong momentum in the mobile payment category and according to the People’s Bank of China (PBC), the mobile payment customer base amounted to around 145 million at the end of 2011, an increase of 55 million users compared with 90 million in 2010. There were 247 million payment transactions in 2011, showing an increase of 109 percent over 2010, according to a recent Deloitte report.

Mobile Brand Integration: Coke and Meitu Photo App
About Meitu: A popular photo-editing app in China that also acts as a mini social network. Objective: To bring Coke closer to youth fashion and encourage its users to share the brand. Solution: Feature Coke-themed designs backdrops on the Meitu mobile photo app.


Opportunities for Brands:

  • Mobile advertising is still a terrific bargain as the space is relatively uncluttered and surprisingly few advertisers are fully testing it out.
  • Look to consider shifting your online video budget to mobile video pre-roll and negotiate on price for an equal or better CPM rate, as China users are flocking to mobile.
  • Put your future mobile focus fully on smartphones, apps, and HTML5 sites and ensure you have a mobile-optimized website and e-commerce enabled.
  • Pioneer deep and creative partnerships with leading mobile app developers to position for the big shift to mobile, as you see in the Coke example above.

However, some challenges do exist in China mobile. Slow download times, inexpensive, lower-tech smartphones, and generally low app rate installs, where they average between three to 10 apps installed, compared to the U.S., where users launch an average of eight apps per day. Toward the end of this year, China is planning to significantly expand its 4G network to eventually provide high-speed mobile Internet to over 500 million people. The 4G upgrade will also allow existing users to expect faster download and upload speeds and greater coverage in rural areas of the country.

Finally, to wrap up, let’s look at an interesting and somewhat funny usage of the British embassy’s application of a mobile QR code to encourage people to follow their Weibo account.


Related reading

A QR code which leads to the URL for the ClickZ article about QR codes. Meta.