QR Codes and the Chinese App Economy
What growing wealth in China’s biggest city has meant for consumer access to convenience
Everyday life in Shanghai has some major perks, especially when it comes to tech. People still use QR codes here and they use them with a vengeance.
While QR codes never really took off elsewhere in the world, people in China have come to rely on them for everything.
Literally everything is linked by QR codes, and more than helping you find websites and enter competitions, they help you pay for everything, order anything, and sort your whole life.
Apps here such as Alipay and WeChat can be linked to your bank account and provide you with a QR code that shopkeepers can scan with the same scanning devices they use on their own products.
Even tiny Mom & Pop stores who elsewhere wouldn’t be able to afford credit card reading machines can afford to have the app on their phone that scans your QR code.
Smart phones can be purchased here for a steal (they’re made locally and the competition is fierce) so there’s no one left out of the system.
Your QR app can also be used to pay for bills that once upon a time made you cry with frustration. I use the app Alipay as it’s the biggest, most popular, and easiest for taking care of all my bills.
When the power, water, gas, or internet bills come in, I tear them open and find them written 100% in Chinese.
Normally this would make me shake a fist at the gods and scream.
These days I just find the QR code inevitably printed somewhere on the first page. I then give the code a scan with my phone and my app produces the bill in English, then with one tap it’s paid.
I can even set up auto-pay for next time.
This same app recharges my phone, hails cabs, books hotels, reserves restaurants, I can buy lotto tickets, and lots more.
It’s like an episode of Doctor Who set one hundred years in the future.
QR Pet Store
There’s a great pet supply store near my house.
It’s about 30 ft by 2 ft. so it’s long, but very narrow.
It’s full of pet products that can be seen clearly through tall, clear glass. The store is 100% unmanned and features a prominent QR code in the centre of the glass.
If you see anything you like inside the store you can simply scan the code, find what you like on the online companion store and buy it on the spot.
Opening hours at stores across the city are set much later than they are back home, and there’s a lot more choice in every category.
This level of choice drastically boost competition and ultimately drives down prices.
This absolutely capitalist system is really confusing for people who come expecting to find a purely communist state, but that’s not really the whole picture anymore.
Just stand in the middle of East Nanjing Road or Shanghai Times Square, look around and see the proof: McDonald’s, Burger King, Zara, Forever 21. Everyone’s here!
I want it delivered. And I want it now
Anyone up for some Eleme?
Elema is a food delivery app that hosts hundreds of different restaurants in dozens of different categories. You can find authentic Chinese cuisine or garbage fast-food and everything in between.
Because competition within the app is so intense, prices are kept very low.
In fact, the restaurant on the app add so many discounts to stay competitive that it can be cheaper to have your favourite food delivered than to go there in person.
Restaurants with street-side competition are forced to be competitive on pricing, or find an edge to stay relevant.
But when they’re featured alongside hundreds of other equally delicious restaurants on the same app – they have to step it up more than ever.
The bidding war for your money is fierce, and you the consumer are the winner.
This is the kind of consumer access that can only take place in a population this size.
My Chinese friends do not appreciate the app anywhere near as much as I do – the app is low brow to them. They are used to extremely fast service and competitive prices; they’re used to businesses trying their hardest.
As an Australian who is use to living outside the Uber Eats delivery zone, I am in love with this element of the city.
An app for everything!
Accessibility and speed are not only relegated to the dining industry. When I have a clogged pipe, dirty kitchen, or busted light I don’t need to get on my hands and knees, get a ladder, or spare ten minutes away from playing Overwatch.
A few taps on the ol’ phone and you can have anyone in the service industry come within a few hours and take care of your issue quickly and inexpensively, round the clock. Often your landlord will even cover the bill.
With China being the most populous country and Shanghai its biggest city, we have access here like no one else in the world.
It’s not just the size of the population, it’s the amount of people with disposable income. More wealth has meant a higher demand for even better quality access.
And it’s only going to get better from here.