But these challenges seem unlikely to dissuade other Chinese tech companies from following TikTok’s lead, says Lin. “I do believe Chinese companies will become even more ambitious and stronger in the coming years,” he says.
He also expects these companies to increase their global ambitions: since the Chinese domestic tech market is highly saturated, with strong levels of competition, they may see more opportunities coming from the overseas market.
Changing Western tech
Already, the way Chinese-launched apps interact with users, and the services they offer within the apps, are influencing Western platforms. One example: the “superapp”.
“In China it’s very common to become a superapp, where you do a lot of different things within the same app,” says Fabian Ouwehand, founder of Many, a Dutch social marketing agency that advises companies and influencers on how to use TikTok and its Chinese version, Douyin.
Perhaps the most popular combination? Social media and commerce. “In China people are used to the commercialised version of social media entertainment, and do a lot of ecommerce and business through their apps,” says Lin.
On Douyin, for example, users can buy products directly from the app as they watch the shortform videos that creators post onto the platform – something TikTok in the West is mimicking through the introduction of integration with online shopping platform Shopify, launched in October 2020. WeChat, which is often described solely as a chat app, is far more: it’s also a payment platform and a way to keep up to date with friends.
The reason superapps have become so popular in China is simple, says Zhao. “People feel it’s really convenient to have every part of their life organised by social media platforms and superapps,” she says. “From shopping online to hailing taxis, socialising with friends and meeting up with strangers, everything you can do within one app.”