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Tech groups push ‘chat commerce’ to western shoppers
SEPTEMBER 23 2019 | Financial Times | by Patrick McGee in San Francisco.

From wishing a friend happy birthday to contacting a colleague about a meeting, text messaging is central to much of 21st-century life, with one glaring exception: commerce....the potential for brands to engage with customers and sell goods using pithy, personalised messages is vast. On the Chinese app WeChat, 170m people browse for products — and pay for them — every day on more than 600,000 “mini-programs” within the app. They hail cabs, buy groceries, book doctor’s appointments and even get tourism recommendations through real-time crowdsourcing.

Now, after a series of failed starts, so-called conversational commerce may be set to gain traction in the west, as a host of tech companies attempt to follow WeChat’s lead.

In its new iOS 13 software update, Apple is prompting users on its iPhones who attempt to make a call to companies such as Burberry, Hilton and Verizon to “start a Business Chat instead, so you can interact with a business from a text instead of waiting on hold”.

Apple Business Chat, which was first announced in 2017, lets consumers communicate directly with brands within the Messages app — usually via sophisticated artificial intelligence chatbots — enabling them to ask questions about products and pay for them through Apple Pay, which is integrated into the platform......

‘There is no shortage of demand’

Proponents say the reason texting works in commerce is the simplicity and intimacy of the experience. Consider what happens when a flight is cancelled, causing 200 people to suddenly need to make new plans. Customer service is bombarded; passengers are left waiting on hold. Instead, an airline could let each person text their preferences, then put their phone away as an answer is worked on.

“The idea that [customer service] has to be this synchronous thing where you settle down for a 10-minute conversation on the phone is ridiculous,” said Charles Golvin, researcher at Gartner. “The actual aggregate amount of time you need might be 30 seconds.”.....Making customers feel they are engaging with an individualised service that responds quickly with helpful answers is critical. Instead of hiring a massive staff to respond to each and every query, companies are deploying AI to field customer questions using chatbots, though these can defer to human employees when necessary.

Into the west

So far, attempts to bring conversational commerce to the west have received a lot of hype but little traction. Three years ago, after Uber integrated ride-hailing into Facebook Messenger, product designer Chris Messina hailed 2016 as “the year of conversational commerce” — a prediction that never materialised.

“I don’t think ‘fail’ is too harsh — the uptake of commerce through messaging in the US has been dismal,” Mr Golvin said.

Nevertheless, momentum is beginning to pick up, with sales volume tripling in the past three years, led by in-app messaging within Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Brian Long, chief executive of Attentive, a Sequoia-backed start-up building text platforms for more than 400 brands ranging from Jack in the Box fast food to luxury apparel brand Coach, said it is becoming clear that email marketing does not work, especially among younger people.....Apple declined to say how many brands are participating on Business Chat, but a deal inked earlier this year enabled all 800,000 online merchants on Shopify to engage with customers over text and transact with Apple Pay.

Michael Perry, director of product for conversational offerings at Shopify, said brands using text to engage with customers are building trust that translates into higher spending habits.

“You’re more likely to pay a premium [for] a brand you like,” he said. “And messaging, more than any other medium, powers that.
Apple  brands  chat  chatbots  conversational_commerce  messaging  mobile_applications  Shopify  text_messages  WeChat 
september 2019 by jerryking
With the iPhone Sputtering, Apple Bets Its Future on TV and News
March 25, 2019 | WSJ | By Tripp Mickle.

The iPhone is running out of juice. To go beyond the device that made Apple Inc. a global colossus, Tim Cook is betting on a suite of services—marking the company’s biggest shift in more than a decade......Apple will take a giant leap forward announcing video- and news-subscription services that it hopes will generate billions of dollars in new annual revenue and deepen ties between iPhone users and the company.....apps and services, from Spotify to Netflix to China’s WeChat , have often become more important to users than the devices that run them. .....The company’s ambition in video is to become an alternative to cable, combining original series with shows from other networks to create a new entertainment service that can reach more than 100 markets world-wide. ....Apple hasn’t said what it will charge for the programming. .....The original series will be delivered in a new TV app that staff have been calling a Netflix killer.....Apple has been negotiating to bring its new TV app to multiple platforms, including Roku and smart TVs.........Apple plans to showcase a revamped News app that includes a premium tier with access to more than 200 magazines—including Bon Appétit, People and Glamour—as well as newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal.....The Washington Post and New York Times aren’t participating in the new app...... in the early 2000s, co-founder Steve Jobs reinvented the company by pushing it into mobile devices. The iPod and its accompanying iTunes service revived a company that was largely dependent on Mac computer sales....Mr. Cook is attempting a similar feat in the approaching twilight of the smartphone era....Cook wanted to know which apps were selling well, how many Apple Music subscribers stuck with the service, and how many people were signing up for iCloud storage.....Apple’s biggest source of services revenue comes from distributing other companies’ software through its App Store.....Apple’s music-streaming service has about 50 million global subscribers—far behind Spotify’s 96 million.

Apple’s base of 1.4 billion iPhones, iPads and Macs in use globally gives it a distribution platform..................The push into news subscriptions could help Apple battle Facebook, whose News Feed has helped it become the No. 1 app world-wide in monthly active smartphone users.....Facebook is attempting to become a super-app like China’s WeChat, which allows users to shop, order food, buy movie tickets and make reservations on any mobile operating system......Steve Jobs foreshadowed Apple’s services future when he started iTunes in 2001, offering categories from competing major labels to make the first successful digital-music store, with songs available for 99 cents.

For Mr. Cook’s monthly services meetings, the company monitors of apps that benefit and threaten Apple. There is a "release radar" for Cook to track apps that are expected to sell well and other metrics for the apps that have challenged Apple’s business, including iTunes sales decreases compared with Apple Music subscription growth.
App_Store  Apple  Apple_IDs  Apple_Music  big_bets  CEOs  cloud_computing  Disney  iCloud  iPhone  iTunes  magazines  mobile_applications  multiplatforms  Netflix  news  NYT  original_content  pivots  platforms  services  smartphones  Spotify  storage  streaming  subscriptions  television  Tim_Cook  WaPo  WeChat 
march 2019 by jerryking
Shanghai surprise
19 August/ 20 August 2017 | Financial Times | Helen Roxburgh.

It was this frustration that pushed Sy, who graduated with a masters in international business in France, to start making her own skincare products in 2015. Like many entrepreneurs in China, she chose to forego prolonged levels of planning and instead bounced straight on to social media platform WeChat to launch the business.

In Europe, you’d prepare everything first. In Shanghai you just try it and see what happens

WeChat has more than 900m monthly users, and is used not only for messaging but everything from paying bills, buying coffee, giving to charity and taxis. According to a report in 2016, 200m users have linked payment cards with their accounts, and a third spend more than Rmb500 a month via the platform. WeChat has been pushing its in-app payments and mobile-optimised digital stores to draw in businesses.

“It’s fantastic for entrepreneurs,” says Sy. “I had this idea, posted on WeChat, that I was going to be selling my own scrubs and body creams for Christmas, and was surprised at how quickly I started to get orders. Then of course I panicked because I didn’t actually have anything yet — but within a week a friend made me some simple packaging and I was off. I ended up selling out.” After six months, she started to run Lalu full time, selling mostly through online platforms. As well as expanding Lalu, Sy also launched a clothing brand, Nubien, inspired by bright African fabrics and clothing.
women  Africa  entrepreneur  China  Shanghai  personal_care_products  product_launches  beauty  WeChat  Lalu  start_ups  MBAs 
august 2017 by jerryking
China gifts luxury a reprieve
29 April/30 April 2017 | FT Weekend | by Harriet Agnew and Tom Hancock

Chinese consumers, the drivers of global luxury for more than a decade, once travelled overseas to the European fashion capitals of Paris, London and Milan to take advantage of lower prices. Now they are increasingly inclined to spend at home. Last year Chinese consumers made two-thirds of their personal luxury goods purchases domestically, compared with roughly a third in 2013, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
.............In an era of lower growth, brands are trying to adapt to changing consumer demands and the disruption of digital while keeping the creative process at the heart of it. “Creativity and audacity is what allows you to elicit desire [and therefore sales] over the long run, telling a story that people want to discover, chapter after chapter,” says François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive of Kering.
......Yet brands can no longer rely on opening lots of new stores to fuel growth. Instead they have to keep costs down, revamp their existing stores to make them more profitable, and seek new customers through avenues like digital.

“The business model of luxury has completely changed,” says Erwan Rambourg, global co-head of consumer and retail at HSBC in New York. “Either brands understand that and make the changes themselves, or they don’t and they leave themselves open to activism or M&A.”
.......Compared with other consumer brands, luxury has been late to the digital party. Phoebe Philo, the then creative director at fashion house Céline, told Vogue in 2013 that “the chicest thing is when you don’t exist on Google”. But that view now looks unsustainable.

Six out of 10 sales are digitally influenced, says BCG, which estimates that online commerce will grow from 7 per cent of the global personal luxury market today to 12 per cent by 2020.

Within digital, the holy grail is so-called omnichannel — the ability to offer a seamless experience to customers that blends digital and bricks-and-mortar stores, and includes initiatives like click-and-collect. “Blending the physical and the digital is the future of the online flagship stores,” says Federico Marchetti, chief executive of the YOOX Net-a-Porter Group.

The emphasis is on the customer experience. Net-a-Porter is launching a same-day delivery service in September for its top clients in London called, “You try, we wait.” Customers will be able to try on their online order at home or in the office while the delivery van waits outside.
......As e-commerce gathers steam and groups collect more and more data on their clients, the next stage is machine learning and artificial intelligence, believes Mr Marchetti. In this vision of the future algorithms will act as virtual shopping assistants, suggesting items that the customer might like, “enabling us to speak to each customer on an individual basis rather than to the whole customer base”, he says.

Luxury brands are also increasingly using blogs, online “influencers” and social media platforms such as Instagram to generate visibility and lure potential buyers.

All of this is happening at a time when the definition of what constitutes luxury is expanding beyond physical possessions to include experiences both as a competitor to, and opportunity for, the traditional houses.

“Luxury brands are now competing with the plastic surgeon and the luxury travel agent,” says Mr Rambourg. “For a similar price you can have a Louis Vuitton handbag, a facelift or a trip to the Maldives.”
....“Our pulse is the Chinese customer,” says LVMH’s Mr Guiony: “It made the sector worse a couple of years ago and it has made it better now. We have to be aware of that. Trees don’t grow to the sky.”
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luxury  brands  China  Chinese  China_rising  consumers  digital_disruption  e-commerce  travel_agents  BCG  growth  LVMH  watches  noughties  Yoox  customer_experience  WeChat  Burberry  digital_influencers  creativity  audacity  storytelling  omnichannel  artificial_intelligence  machine_learning  virtual_assistants  same-day 
may 2017 by jerryking
China, Not Silicon Valley, Is Cutting Edge in Mobile Tech - The New York Times
AUG. 2, 2016 | NYT | by By PAUL MOZUR.

Silicon Valley has long been the world’s tech capital: It birthed social networking and iPhones and spread those tech products across the globe. The rap on China has been that it always followed in the Valley’s footsteps as government censorship abetted the rise of local versions of Google, YouTube and Twitter.

But China’s tech industry — particularly its mobile businesses — has in some ways pulled ahead of the United States. Some Western tech companies, even the behemoths, are turning to Chinese firms for ideas.

“We just see China as further ahead,” said Ted Livingston, the founder of Kik, which is headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario.

The shift suggests that China could have a greater say in the global tech industry’s direction. Already in China, more people use their mobile devices to pay their bills, order services, watch videos and find dates than anywhere else in the world. Mobile payments in the country last year surpassed those in the United States. By some estimates, loans from a new breed of informal online banks called peer-to-peer lenders did too.....“The cool thing about chat is it becomes an operating system for your daily life,” Mr. Livingston said. “Going up to a vending machine, ordering food, getting a cab: Chat can power those interactions, and that’s what we’re seeing with WeChat.”....Chinese companies also approach the internet in a different way. In the United States, tech firms emphasize simplicity in their apps. But in China, its three major internet companies — Alibaba, Baidu and the WeChat parent Tencent — compete to create a single app with as many functions as they can stuff into it.

On Alibaba’s Taobao shopping app, people can also buy groceries, buy credits for online games, scan coupons and find deals at stores nearby. Baidu’s mapping app lets users order an Uber, reserve a restaurant or hotel, order in food, buy movie tickets and find just about any type of store nearby.

Tencent has opened up WeChat to other companies, allowing them to create apps within WeChat.
chat  China  conversational_commerce  Facebook  Kik  mobile_phones  mobile  Silicon_Valley  Stratechery  Tencent  WeChat 
august 2016 by jerryking
What Comes After Apps - WSJ
By CHRISTOPHER MIMS
Updated Feb. 22, 2016

The first and most intriguing alternative to apps is chat. This is hard to understand for anyone who hasn’t spent time in Asia or at least read about the dominance of WeChat and its competitors, but in China chat apps are used for everything from hailing a car to paying for your Coke at a vending machine.

Kik, a chat app that doesn’t get as much attention as rivals but for U.S. teens is on par with Facebook Messenger and Snapchat in terms of users and importance, will roll out similar functionality within six months, says Chief Executive Ted Livingston.

A growing share of these commercial chats take place with so-called chat bots—interactive computer programs that prompt users to select from among several options, for example. Imagine scanning a chat code on the back of the seat in front of you at a ballpark and having a brief conversation with a chat bot about how many and what kind of beers you want to order.

Chat, says Mr. Livingston, could manage most of the real-world interactions that previously would have required us to visit a mobile Web page, download an app, or—in some cases—give up in frustration with a phone’s constraints. Chat apps won’t solve the walled-garden problem of apps, but they could at least create lightweight interactions with services that happen in seconds and don’t require us to spend time downloading or loading anything.

A TechCrunch article in January indicated that Facebook will soon reveal similar technology within its Messenger app. At least at first, building chat bots that work on any chat app should be easier for developers, because they have similar interfaces. Chat, in other words, could become the new Web browser.
bots  chat  chatbots  Christopher_Mims  conversational_commerce  Facebook  Kik  lightweight_interactions  messaging  mobile_applications  walled_gardens  WeChat 
february 2016 by jerryking
Why Apps for Messaging Are Trending - NYTimes.com
By MIKE ISAAC and MICHAEL J. de la MERCEDJAN. 25, 2015

a glimpse into how some personal messaging apps like Instagram, WeChat and Snapchat — already used by millions of people sharing text or images among friends — will be used in the future.

Some publishers, game makers and e-commerce companies are using the apps as a new distribution and moneymaking platform. Developers have been expanding the uses of the apps, making new functions possible. And investors, seeing huge potential, have driven the apps to ever-higher valuations.
...The initial appeal of the apps is simple. They are faster to use than email, and they generally allow you to send text, links, video and photos to friends more cheaply than traditional texting services offered by wireless carriers like Verizon or AT&T.
chat  chatbots  conversational_commerce  mobile_applications  messaging  Instagram  WeChat  SnapChat  ephemerality 
january 2015 by jerryking

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