When it comes to tech-driven consumer behaviour, China has been ahead of the West for many, many years. eCommerce, social commerce and mobile payments were all pioneered by Chinese consumers tenacious about new technologies, often in stark contrast to their more conservative peers in the West.
The technology on show at this year’s CES Asia, held in Shanghai, endorsed China’s position as the world’s technology innovator instead of just a copycat. Much of the tech being displayed on the show room floor was crafted for use by Chinese consumers first, with some products even lacking a global release date.
Here are some examples.
The future of ecommerce: Delivery and automation to achieve scale
In industries like CPG, brand sales are declining, or at the very least growth is stalling. Many brands are looking to ecommerce, which represents 20 to 40 percent of overall sales in China, to drive sales back to a healthy level. This means brands are relying on ecommerce giants like JD.com to help them achieve scale.
Last year, JD.com debuted its Linglong DingDong, an Alexa-like home AI, and a connected Smart-home concept. But this year it bolstered its showcase on how it works behind the scenes, an automated ecosystem that now includes self-driving vans and mobile warehousing bots.
JD wasn't the exhibitor pulling back the curtain on logistics either. Shannon Dix, director of global clients at Publicis.Sapient China, pointed out electronic retailer Suning’s cooperation with Iflyrec, China’s most dominant contextual AI. “It will be a big winner for the future growth of ecommerce, with a potentially wide range of applications commercially.”
Rise of Chinese robots
Traditionally, we think robotics is Japan’s homeground. But at CES Asia, Chinese robots had a starring role, from models for companionship to learning to serving functional roles.
The Peanut range of robots offers practical assistance to the retailing and hospitality industries. Peanut robots can function as delivery agents for food at restaurants and also as information kiosks. One even has the ability to map its own surroundings.
Another Chinese robot concierge is OVO’s machine, known as the advertising robot. Staff at the OVO stand relayed that it will launch in China’s malls with an unnamed jewelry brand this summer. Not only can it show branded content, projected onto the mall floor, but it will also give directions to shoppers so they can easily find exactly what they need.
In-store and online retail experiences
Traditionally, Chinese retail brands have spent a lot of resources renovating and refreshing their in-store environment on a regular basis. That’s all set to change with technologies that enable dynamic design, like holography from Digital China. Using this technology to create in-store designs, retail brands can update stores on a daily basis using holograms.
AR for retail is also fast becoming a reality, with the volume and choice of portable AR headsets available in China encouraging experimentation. One purveyor, HiScene has created interactions for fast-food brands like KFC, that utilized Alipay’s AR camera option to deliver brand messaging and coupons. They also used their red dot award winning AR lens to help renovators create their dream Kohler-branded bathrooms. It’s a brand experience nod to their form and function product proposition.
Speaking of form, fashion retail’s one-size-fits-all approach to merchandising is set to change thanks to Haomaiyi's artificial intelligence for fashon retail. The brand’s robotic clothing mannequins change shape and height to reflect a fuller range of body types, showing how clothes will sit on shoppers of different shapes and sizes. Then there’s the fashion retail intelligent mirror that reflects fashion apparel as a ‘real fit’ to a shoppers height, weight and body shape. This technology is already available on mobile for China’s significant mcommerce shopping landscape and is used in China by many brands, including Paul Frank.
Smart, safe homes
Chinese homes aren’t just smarter, they’re now also safer. In China, connected homes are no longer just about smart white goods. The focus is on a more serious utility: safety. The dominant proposition from Chinese brands like OOMI and Ezviz were smart safe homes.
Innovations included security: biometric locks with enhanced security settings, such as using a different finger to trigger an automatic “alarm” notification to police—as well as health: Unibot’s floor sweeping robot also detects gas leaks.
Tom Zuo, the CEO of Wellgreen Technologies, another Chinese smart-home vendor, pointed out that safety was his brand’s strongest sales point. He also noted that Chinese consumers wanted to control all of their safe, smart home through a single touchpoint—just one app.
“For some brands, this trend is supported by the inclusion of more advanced AI capabilities, including perception and natural language processing.” says James Chiu, executive experience director at SapientRazorfish China.
International brands with China-first launches
It’s not just Chinese tech for Chinese consumers, some internationally renowned brands are catering to the needs of Chinese consumers, first. Motorola’s foetal monitor for pregnant mums is a good example. The product is launching in China this summer but staff at the booth shared it won’t be available in the US.
There’s also suggestions that western brands and think tanks are taking their products and thinking to a Chinese audience. One example is Avatar Mind Robots’ child-friendly iPal which is already selling in China, but primarily for use in aged care. Now, the company partnered with the Santa Clara Office of Education to generate STEM content for placement on the robots for young Chinese students.
Elaine Chow is head of marketing at Publicis.Sapient China