The term “super app” was coined by BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis in 2010. He described a super app as “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience.” In the space of just a few years, super apps have reinvented the customer experience for services in Asia, while in the West, the concept has had a harder time establishing itself.
The most used super apps in the world have been created in Asia. In China, the messaging app WeChat was the first to diversify its services and link up with various partners, from the leading taxi booking platform Didi to the major e-commerce player Jd.com, gradually turning itself into an essential point of access to online services.
WeChat then launched the concept of “mini-programs” enabling companies to independently create their own mini-apps, leading to exponential growth in the number of services that can be accessed through the app. The concept rapidly gained popularity, thanks to WeChat’s 1.25 billion monthly users. The trend has been picked up rapidly in neighboring countries. In Southeast Asia, the super apps Grab and Gojek were inspired by the WeChat model. They have 24.7 and 38 million monthly users respectively. In India, the payment app Paytm, which has Alibaba as one of its main investors, has established itself as a leading super app, with more than 350 million users.
THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF THE SUPER APP MODEL: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Aspiring super apps engage their audience through a use or activity that requires them to regularly return to the app. WeChat became a super app through its messaging activity, Grab through its mobility services, and Alipay through e-commerce and payment. Super apps have gradually capitalized on their audiences and linked up with partners to diversify their service offering. By bringing together data gathered from each of the services, super apps can access a quantity of information on consumer habits that other “conventional” apps are unable to rival. This data is the key to providing an experience that the founder of Blackberry described as seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient.
Super apps can have personalized homepages that draw users’ attention to services that may interest them, at the right time of day. In Grab, for example, somebody who uses the app to plan their daily commute will automatically get a suggestion for a route that suits their budget, accessible with a click, each morning. During their journey, the user receives personalized recommendations for businesses located along their route, where they can buy breakfast, for example. They can then save time by ordering their breakfast online and picking it up without having to queue.
At a time when users are looking to access personalized content in the simplest possible way, super apps are meeting demand with a user experience that is among the most personalized in the tech world.
SUPER APPS EMERGING IN EUROPE
The term “super app” is not as widely used in the West.
However, while most people are unaware of it, some applications, such as Uber and Amazon Pay, have practically become super apps. Uber has adopted a model similar to Grab, by first specializing in mobility and then expanding its services to meal deliveries with Uber Eats.
In the West, super apps are most prominent in the fields of banking and finance, as illustrated by the following three examples:
The French app Lydia offers an alternative to traditional banking applications by making it easier for private individuals to send each other payments. Since 2013, Lydia has evolved from a peer-to-peer payment app to a more comprehensive banking application, offering loans, deposit accounts, insurance, and a full suite of wealth management products, in partnership with other organizations. Lydia is the closest thing to a super app in France.
In the United Kingdom, Revolut has grown since 2015 to become a fintech super app. Initially launched in 2015, as a neo bank, the app has diversified by adding services such as crypto-currency trading, loans, subscription management, gift cards, donations, and pet insurance.
In the area of online payments, the American app PayPal has made no secret of its ambition to become a super app. In September 2021, the app began to diversify its services, while remaining highly focused on finance, with the launch of a suite of financial tools, including direct deposits, bill payment, a digital wallet and crypto-currency buying.
A DIFFERENT FUTURE FOR SUPER APPS IN EUROPE AND ASIA
Despite impressive progress and the emergence of some super apps in Europe, the likes of Revolut, with its 12 million users, have a long way to go before they catch up with the user numbers of Grab and Gojek, for example. What’s more, European super apps are experiencing difficulties in diversifying their services. This is down to cultural and regulatory differences between Europe and Asia. Western markets favor regulation to ensure fair competition. Furthermore, users are concerned about protecting their privacy and are wary about the kind of hyper-personalization that is offered by WeChat and other super apps. Finally, even Asian super apps are beginning to suffer from their position of dominance, particularly in China, where the government has decided to regulate them to free up space for innovative startups, which raises questions about the future of this model.