Super-apps and the changing mobile marketing landscape
Throughout much of the history of the mobile web single-purpose apps have been the norm. In the West, we still predominantly use apps that focus on one thing. We use payment apps to transfer money, entertainment apps to consume content, and weather apps to check the temperature. However, super-apps have emerged in other parts of the world and are even starting to gain a foothold in the West — whether we realize it or not.
What is a super-app?
Unlike single-purpose apps, which have dominated the market over the last ten years, super-apps cover multiple verticals and create a “one-stop-shop” app where users can complete many different tasks. Put simply, super-apps combine multiple different services into one app.
This model is especially popular in Asia, where apps like WeChat offer users many different services. Many of the most popular Asian super-apps started out with a single purpose to encourage uptake and mass usage before branching out to cover a mix of daily activities within a single tool, in the process creating a super-app that allows users to get multiple tasks done without changing apps.
How do super-apps work?
When it comes to super-apps, there’s no denying the dominance of WeChat. Initially launched as a messaging app in a similar vein to WhatsApp, it’s since developed into an integrated platform for social networking, ride-hailing, food delivery, restaurant bookings, payments, and gaming — establishing itself as the archetypal super-app.
WeChat also has a diverse user base, catering to everyone from businesspeople looking to generate leads, to teenagers interacting with friends, to restaurant owners who use the platform to process digital payments and gather reviews.
WeChat, Alipay, and Paytm, have all reached a level of sophistication where they allow third parties to offer mini-programs (“applets”) within their apps. Brands such as L'Oréal or Nike create mini-programs to market their products directly to the vast super-app user bases. Gaming companies have also started to publish downsized versions of their products, and in China it’s common for local shops to use mini-programs.
The unique selling point of a super-app that centralizes so many functions is that you can complete multiple tasks or actions in one place. You don’t have to switch between programs or providers to get things done. This also means fewer registrations, fewer incidences of providing payment details, and an overall reduction of friction. If you need a haircut, you can find a hairdresser, book an appointment, and pay all in the same app. The same goes for plumbers to yoga instructors, tailors to teachers, and more.
Operating within the confines of a super-app lowers the risk (and necessary investment) for small businesses that want to go mobile. Launching new products is also less risky for big companies with an established user base, making it easy for super-apps to grow.
What are the top super-apps on the market?
In addition to the aforementioned WeChat, Alipay and Paytm, there are numerous stand-out super-apps in Southeast Asia. Gojek and Grab have evolved from ride-hailing apps into all-in-one services that allow you to manage everything from housekeeping to food delivery to insurance. In Vietnam, the super-app Zalo can be used to apply for visas and other official documentation. Although Line (Japan) and KakaoTalk (Korea) actually run on an interconnection model, they can also be regarded as super-apps. All of these super-apps are positioned brilliantly: WeChat and Alipay have exceeded one billion users, and Zalo has surpassed the 100 million mark. Demonstrating their impressive market potential, Grab, Gojek, Paytm have secured nine billion, four billion, and three billion USD of funding respectively.
Super-apps in the world
Are super-apps an Asian phenomenon?
Google, Facebook and Amazon are less dominant in Asia, and completely absent in China. This means super-app developers were and are better positioned to emerge as market leaders. Asian markets are also typically mobile-first, meaning super-apps hardly have to compete with existing desktop applications. In Cambodia and Vietnam, where banking infrastructure is lacking, many consumers are making the jump from cash to mobile payments directly. Super-apps have functioned as disruptors to the informal economies in place in these markets, where they have enabled the digitalization of corner shops, street food ventures, and bike-taxis.
Investors are now looking to African markets, aiming to establish payment and ride-hailing applications to create an infrastructure and user-base from which to build new super-apps. Examples include Opay/ORide and Quickteller in Nigeria, SafeBoda and Tingg in Kenya, and the MTN-led app, Ayoba, in South Africa.
In Latin America, Rappi, which started as a delivery service, is very close to becoming a super-app.
How is the super-app concept positioned in the West?
Established digital players in the West are applying strategies that can be considered a version of the super-app concept. Uber has been straightforward about its ambition to become a super-app, confirmed by their acquisition of Careem — a company striving to become the super-app of the Middle East. Airbnb has also expressed interest in going down a similar path. The development of these applications also offers an interesting line of historical thought — it’s one of the first times in the digital economy that the West is following the East.
How to make a super-app successful?
The main selling point of super-apps is their convenience. Developers must keep these tips in mind to ensure ease of use.
- One-stop-shopping: Much of a super-app’s success depends on its offerings. Ensure that you offer all of the products and services your customers expect to keep them loyal and engaged.
- Make integration easy: Allowing independent vendors to integrate with your product through mini-apps not only reduces development costs, but brings in new customers.
- Make onboarding easy: Ease of use is key to super-app success, so make sure it’s easy for users to sign-up, enter payment details, and get started.
Frequently asked question about super-apps
Is Amazon a super-app?
Amazon is well on its way to becoming a super-app. Amazon Prime subscribers likely already use the app to purchase goods, watch movies and television, listen to music, and read e-books. However, Amazon is still focused largely on content e-commerce and has not yet branched out to other verticals, such as ride sharing or payment transfers.
Are Facebook and Instagram super-apps?
Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wants Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to function as an interconnected platform for private services. In India, Facebook has also teamed up with Reliance Industries Limited to implement the latter’s payment facilities in WhatsApp. As Zuckerberg has rebranded to Meta and introduced the concept of the metaverse, it’s clear that the company is moving closer to becoming a super-app.
What is a financial super-app?
Financial super-apps focus on combining multiple financial services and products in one app, but do not branch out into other verticals. For instance, in Q1 2021 PayPal announced plans to combine its Venmo and PayPal mobile apps into one super-app. Other financial institutions might allow for easy money transfers, loan applications, and e-wallet functionality all-in-one.
What do super-apps mean for Adjust?
Super-apps have the potential to change the mobile marketing landscape. On the one hand, they narrow down the playing field for single-purpose applications. The downside of this is that established businesses and single-purpose apps can lose their user base. It does however offer smaller companies the opportunity to enter the mobile market via mini-programs or applets that are much easier to develop, and therefore more cost-effective to make.
Gaming companies have already started publishing limited versions of their games as mini-programs in super-apps. This essentially functions as a new user acquisition stream, where mini-program users eventually convert into full-app users.
Super-apps also change the nature of user acquisition more broadly. For many companies, the first conversion will no longer be the install. Users will start using their applications because they’re already available on the super-app as a mini-program or applet. Registrations will also become obsolete in this context, as users are already identified. Churn will also have to be defined anew, as there is no such thing as an uninstall in the context of a super-app.
Furthermore, the extent to which super-apps will provide ad inventory remains to be seen. WeChat and Alipay enable advertisers to create profiles, but the products marketed are sold exclusively within the super-app, not through an external application.
Whichever way you look at it, super-apps are a force to be reckoned with, on a business level and on a conceptual basis. If Western markets are to head down the same path or even take steps towards centralized, friction-reducing app models, the entire mobile market will be reshaped.