Ignoring the risk of sounding melodramatic, in Hong Kong, life seems to flash by - a lot changes in a week, let alone 2 years it’d been since my last visit. The ever-bustling, overcrowded octopus-ruled city I'd spent 13 fond years growing up in.
As expected, digital technology powers it’s beating heart, and is now rapidly enhancing ‘traditional’ service verticals and 360 aspects of life (or is it the other way round?) in fascinating, ‘why-hasn’t-this-been-done-before’ ways.
The normalisation of perpetual food-Instagramming, selfies, app installing, video and web checking is revolutionising Chinese society and culture. I witnessed first hand the seemingly ageless limit of mobile addicts a.k.a ‘Dītóu zú’, ‘低頭族’which literally translates to ‘low head clan’ in Chinese.
Here’s an insights summary of the macro tech trends I observed in the advertising, retail and leisure sector during my recent visit in November. I’ll also explain how these have been shaped by unique Hong Kong and Chinese consumer behaviours.
Less prominent in the US and UK, the square-dot data barcodes originally from Japan are virtually omnipresent in Hong Kong (almost everyone has a QR code reader downloaded on their Smartphone). QR code usages are seemingly endless*, from simply directing customers to your URL, to sending them to app store or rewarding them with an exclusive discount or perk (colloquially known as ‘Jetso’ ‘著數’). QR codes are particularly loved by mainland Chinese tourists who, powered by the appreciated RMB, have been flocking to Hong Kong as a great value premier shopping destination since the mid-noughties.
Again, tap multi-screen environments are propping up seemingly everywhere. I was most impressed at how shopping malls had noticeably eschewed print brochures in favour of much slicker, time-saving directions and personalised visitor services offered by touch screens.
Comprehensive attention to detail (within context)
Multi-purpose devices and functionalities within apps are popular here, but if you want fickle Chinese consumers to become loyal to your product, or become a long term commercial success, you need to anticipate the specific questions, stipulations and improvements they’ll naturally think next when using your service. Offer the widest, best range possible but only if they're relevant, targeted, time-saving and useful.
An example of this is the proliferation of LED video streaming of fashion catwalk footage in/outside malls and stores and the role they play in customer cycles- tempting busy customers walking past to visualise wearing the product in motion, without trying it on themselves.
Another example are the ladies' restrooms in Hysan Place (Causeway Bay’s newest major shopping mall), which provide complimentary smart mirrors that reflect and mimic the effects of natural light. They are designed to help make flattering makeup application easier (perfect for selfie preparations) as well as cleverly sending customers subliminal messages to pay a visit to their beauty stores.
Thinking beyond retail and travel
Remember in Hong Kong no industry is considered too traditional, sacred or niche for a tech makeover to better serve customers and provide more engaging ways of sharing content/services. The retail, dining, hotel, travel and entertainment sectors have been the key players, but the market is becoming increasingly fragmented. Religious, education and recruitment marketing, leisure park information signs, exhibition displays to old school print magazines are all emblazoned indoors or out with QR codes these days.
Highly personalised online to offline service for customers anywhere
Probably one of the most telling trends I saw in action was the seamless integration of human and tech customer service within online-to-offline retail interfaces. An example would be Harbour City’s (Tsim Sha Tsui) mall guide, where besides giving you directions to your nearest Burberry store, you can summon live video calls with an actual visitor assistant, a feature particularly popular with non-English speaking and mainland tourists)
In the battle for customers’ loyalty, most shopping centres have developed their own apps and selling points for them, for instance New Town Plaza’s (Sha Tin) app has a practical parked car and restaurant ticket tracking function.
Hi-speed, convenience and reliability
In short, wifi-free zones are hard to find. Rest, work, communication, play, it’s all done on mobile apps and handheld devices on-the-go or whilst engaging in another activity and/or second screen.
Hong Kong lifestyle
Hong Kongers have a reputation for being workaholics – to the extent it’s now commonly acceptable to answer work emails during communal mealtimes, even on holidays.
Consequently technology as a means maintaining youthful and healthy on the go is a growing priority for Hong Kongers on-the go – hence the rise of monitoring apps, fitness wearables, cosmetics and nutrition supplements, available to buy from vending machines at most MTR stations.
Hong Kong & Mainland Chinese culture
For many Hong Kong millenials, aspiring towards consumerism to secure social standing is still in vogue. If you can’t afford a flat, the next best thing is splurging on the latest gadgets, fashion and dining trends. It is the norm of defining one’s ‘individuality’, preferably as savvy, refined connoisseurs with higher income and social status than their peers.
Whether it’s iPhone6s or baby milk powder, the majority of mainland customers are concerned with product safety and authenticity– where knowledge from the internet is considered more trustworthy (this is where the QR codes come in for brand verification). They are curious and eager to learn more about your product or service with their devices.
Social and digital media outlet preferences vary greatly but as a whole Instagram, Whatsapp, Youtube and Facebook are the most popular with locals while mainlanders favour WeChat and Weibo – most retail brands in Hong Kong are accessible on 3 or more channels.
*including commercial tracking, entertainment and transport ticketing, product/loyalty marketing, in-store labelling (source: Wikipedia)