Tencent and Alibaba have been direct competitors since going into mobile commerce and local life services. The two have transformed their flagship mobile apps, WeChat as a messaging service and Alipay Wallet a mobile payment tool, with innovative functions and features transforming both apps in each major update.
While many in China doubt that these mobile apps can replace standalone e-commerce sites like Taobao or JD.com, it is widely believed that “super apps” like WeChat or Alipay Wallet could eventually take the much-hyped online-to-offline business model to a new level. Apart from getting all types of offline shops on their platforms to post listings or interact with customers, Tencent and Alibaba have begun competing in traditional industries such as healthcare.
The two companies have a common goal of automating and streamlining the workflow of those industries with mobile technology. This is however much harder than developing and promoting end-user-facing mobile apps. For instance, the majority of hospitals in China are state-owned, and consequently bureaucratic and reluctant to make changes. Even commercial businesses such as hotels and restaurants are only marginally more willing to replace old software for business operations or customer relations with new mobile solutions.
Tencent and Alibaba don’t charge businesses for adopting their solutions or services, wanting to get as many businesses on board as possible. The two internet giants have the cash and capabilities to make what previously sounded impossible happen, and we’ve written about how a municipal public security bureau or a bank could take advantage of WeChat. At Tencent’s annual partner conference last week, Shanghai First Maternity and Infant Hospital discussed how their WeChat public account became what it is today.
Visiting hospitals is still a greatly inconvenient exercise in China. There are always long queues at reception desks and cashiers, and difficulties in buying tickets to be seen after a certain point each day. The Shanghai hospital started with a feature for booking appointments on their WeChat public account that has solved the problem of long queues early every morning. Then a payment facility was added so users can deposit money and check their payment history, so now they don’t have to wait at cashiers either. Users also can bundle their medical security card, and WeChat will automatically show respective payment amounts under the medical security plan.
The next plan of the hospital is to have doctors interact with patients directly through WeChat.
WeChat said last week that it had a dozen major hospitals on board, and that the number would reach 50 by year end. Meanwhile seventeen hospitals have signed up with Alipay since a Future Hospital Plan was launched in May.
Mobile technology works similarly in industries such as hospitality, tourism, restaurants, and so on. Users are able to buy services, check their purchase history, subscribe to the businesses’ loyalty programs, and reach customer service representatives, on both WeChat and Alipay Wallet.
This technology is new, and traditional business may not know how to integrate with WeChat or Alipay Wallet, so third-party software developers or marketing agents have emerged. They, of course, charge those businesses for customized services or standardized tools.
The convenience brought by mobile solutions to both users and businesses is a good thing, whether WeChat or Alipay Wallet eventually come to dominate the market. What’s more likely is that businesses will adopt both for their different functions and audience.
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