Software, Social Media, and E-Commerce: The Digital Rise Continues in the East

A burgeoning online market, an audience of millions of willing shoppers, and the development of increasingly sophisticated territorial platforms – there has never been a better time for retailers to set out their virtual stores in Asia.

A Shift Toward Home-Grown Software 

At a time when there are concerns about the dominance and ubiquity of operating systems and software platforms originating from the West, it’s not really surprising that the East is seeking a degree of autonomy by pushing forward the progress of its own developments.

This is not least because the digital profiles of major economies in the East, such as China, Hong Kong, and Japan, differ so significantly from their equivalents in the U.S. and Europe. In previous posts I have looked at the ways in which the East is stealing a march on the West when it comes to technology, particularly in the mobile arena, and this is equally true when it comes to software development. Recent reports suggest that China is serious about making inroads into Microsoft’s territory by developing its own software for mobiles and PCs. Such is the government’s commitment to the project that the Chinese Academy of Engineering has been working on a “rival” to Windows, iOS, and Android since March this year.

With its own ecosystem and local app stores, this proposed new platform speaks to the economic landscape in China – it is home-grown, localized, and a showcase for Chinese developer talent.

What This Means for Brands

While the software won’t be ready to go live for at least 12 months, the appetite for its creation just confirms what successful brands already know about breaking into the Chinese market. It’s all about adapting your presence and products to local technologies, systems, and customs, rather than expecting to be able to bend them to your will.

Getting to know the most popular platforms (and staying ahead of the curve by educating yourself about upcoming developments), technologies, and social networks is key to making an impression – and putting in the legwork in advance avoids costly mistakes in developing for a system which will not only have limited use in the territory, but which may also become obsolete in the relatively near future.

The Significance of Social Media

Nowhere is the difference in digital behaviors clearer than in social media. Asia has a great deal of interest in the transactional side of social, whereas other territories are less keen to use their networks as a means to purchase products and are more likely to use them for customer service issues and complaints. Evidence from Forrester research suggests that Internet users in China, Hong Kong, and Japan are super-engaged with brands on Weibo, WeChat, and Renren among others, with those based in cities taking the most interest. Ninety-five percent of city-based Internet users in China are signed up for at least one social network, and engage regularly with an average of 29 brands.

What This Means for Brands

The figures speak for themselves – in China alone ad spend on social networks is set to reach $1.7 billion in 2019, and the Asia-Pacific market as a whole is likely to see social ad revenue double in that time. Brands would be missing a profitable trick if they didn’t have a comprehensive strategy for using social media as part of their digital plans for the East. The market is more than ready for innovative collaborations as well, connecting social with TV, in-store initiatives, and more traditional promotional campaigns.

Shopping Across Channels and Across Continents

For evidence of the sophistication of the digital retail market in Asia, brands need look no further than e-commerce behemoth Alibaba. Not only does its brand-based online marketplace TMall allow businesses from the West to break into the market without the need to open physical stores – Costco is a great example of this – its payment system Alipay (dubbed “the PayPal of the East”) is expanding its reach to the U.S. and beyond.

In the first deal of its kind, Alipay has recently teamed up with U.S.-based payments company Stripe to open up online buying opportunities in the West to Chinese consumers. Any business using Stripe as its payment system will be able to accept payments via Alipay, giving them access to its 300 million registered users and a whole new world of potential sales.

What This Means for Brands

TMall should play an important part in any retailer’s plans to sell in China – it’s the gateway to millions of online shoppers and host to trusted brands with genuine consumer goods and a solid connection with Chinese consumers.

Now that Alipay has set a precedent in forging payment integrations with the West, there’s an even more compelling reason for brands to work with TMall to bring their products and services to the East.

The Bottom Line

It makes sense that Asia wants have autonomy when it comes to digital and technology – it is the largest e-commerce market and is shaping the future for online retail. Brands who get on board with the rapidly advancing developments in software, hardware, and platforms will find their expansion intosia that much easier and more profitable.

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