Mobile shopping and service platforms make up a huge chunk of online commerce already – 43% of retail is expected to happen via mobile phone in 2023. Now, we see a next-level trend swap over from Asia, which might completely change the game: Super apps. Super apps (also: SuperApps, superapps and super-apps) bundle various digital services into a single consolidated, mobile experience. The term was first used by Mike Lazaridis, founder of BIackBerry, at the Mobile World Congress in 2010, picturing everyday apps that are “seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient” and form a closed ecosystem.
Contemporary super apps set out to deliver on this promise. A super app is a collection of so-called mini-apps or applets. Thus, it forms a central access point for services of day-to-day life:
- Social networking
- Event and transportation
Customers can access a super apps’ service portfolio via a single sign-on (SSO) instead of multiple accounts. This convenience keeps them returning and increases brand visibility for businesses – which leads to a spread of the app among more users and ultimately higher revenue.
Also, all mini-apps interact with each other in a context-sensitive way. They access a shared pool of customer data. This data gives businesses insights into customer behavior and is used to recommend user specific actions, goods and services within the super app.
But can your company press START and enter the super app market? And what are the benefits of doing so even? This article will cast a light on this. We will discuss:
- Who are the big players in the super apps market?
- Why are super apps a trend with customers you should not miss out on?
- What are your options to power up your e-commerce business with superapps?
- How to put an electronic wallet at the heart of your super-app?
The Players of Super App World
Today, 2.4 billion people actively use super apps at least once per month, as the marketing agency dentsu claims. This would mean that almost one-third of the global population uses such applications. Numbers that are bound to rise: According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly three-quarters of decision-makers describe the dominance of a single super app conducting all financial transactions in the next decade as “somewhat likely”.
From the customer side, the stats look just as promising: Garter expects that by 2027 50% of the global population will use multiple superapps. However, superapps will likely see the most distribution in developing economies. That’s also where their initial successes stem from.
The Asian Market: Player Number 1
Super apps are most prevalent in Asian countries. China is the pioneer in this field. WeChat and Alipay form the hub of online activity for large parts of the Chinese customer base. WeChat alone reaches over 1.24 billion users. In India, the financial super app Paytm reaches 350 million, and Southeast Asia’s Grab counts around 187 million (all numbers as of 2022). At Beacon Venture Capital, Premika Bhongsudhep argues that the prevalence of super apps in Asia results from the temporal disparity in the digitization of the West and of developing countries. The former went through several stages of adoption of desktop online services before mobile had its breakthrough. In contrast, customers of Asian markets feel no particular attachment to legacy forms of e-commerce.
This points to a second factor that determines the circulation of super apps: The sheer number of mobile devices in customers’ hands. Wherever there is a good mobile network infrastructure and smartphones are widespread, super apps can gain a foothold. In addition, they can serve as an enabler for better service infrastructure in developing or emerging countries. Take financial services, for example. Many super apps offer savings and payment features. Those can be used without a bank account or accessible banking infrastructure.
50% of the global population will use multiple superapps by 2027.(Source: Garter, 2022)
The New Challengers Arrive
Three regions that exhibit precisely this mixture of favoring factors are Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Many experts believe that super apps will spread to these markets next. And to some extent they already have: The super app Careem already has a user base of 48 million across Africa and the Middle East. In Latin America, companies like Rappi (Colombia) or Mercado Libre (Argentina) are tying up attractive feature packages in their apps – completely with their own banking and payment services (RappiPay, Mercado Pago).
For Europe and North America, super apps might seem like an afterthought. Some experts claim the “walled garden” (a.k.a. one-stop-shop) principle behind super apps would stand at odds with Western consumer preferences. For instance, Ron Shevlin points out in Forbes that many of the criteria that make super apps great in Asia, Africa and Latin America are not met in the US: Namely, an unbanked, mobile-savvy population and strict app marketplace regulation that prohibits or limits the usage of Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store.
There are also different opinions. A survey by PYMNTS attests to a fundamental interest of Western customers in super app solutions: In the US, it’s as high as 72% being at least “slightly interested”, 70% in Germany and 74% in the UK. It’s not surprising that many digital platforms – from fintech to messaging to e-commerce – already ponder their own solutions. PayPal introduced its take on super apps in 2021, bundling a digital wallet with payment, deposit and crypto features with messaging and online shopping. Walmart has partnered up with fintech companies left and right to create their own financial super app, too. Elon Musk has implied pursuing similar plans for Twitter. In the meantime, Uber aims to become the Western super app for mobility, having added train tickets and rental cars to their portfolio, among other things.
E-Commerce Game Changers: Why Do Customers Favor Super Apps?
Better Customer Experience
Solving a problem while saving themselves extra steps and time – that’s what customers look for in digital solutions. Now, every additional switch of apps on their smartphone is such an extra step. As is juggling multiple logins and memorizing the associated passwords. And every extra step is a step away from a convenient user experience. Deloitte put the number of US consumers who feel overwhelmed by the number of devices and registrations at one-quarter.
Super apps replace a high number of logins with a single sign-on and save customers time and the hassle of managing many passwords. They can access all functions they need to complete a task (say, booking a vacation) from just one app. Over time, the customer realizes this and will continue to look first to see if there is a mini-app available on the super app interface for their current needs. To lure customers back in, a super app arranges its features around one useful, engaging function. It ensures that users return to the app several times a day.
In the case of WeChat, for example, this would be the eponymous chat function. The recurring usage by customers increases the chances that they will also peek into the applets of other providers.
Higher Convenience and Lifetime Value
Super apps strive to be the central service hubs for their users. Thus, the mini-apps featured often follow shared UI design principles. The interface and controls are harmonized so that customers can operate them intuitively.
But what’s even more important is: Super applets interconnect. They form a functional ecosystem in which one service can seamlessly interact with another. For example, if a customer is looking for the fastest route to another city, they can buy a train ticket or rent a parking space – and pay for that with their e-wallet balance – in just one same app. They could even send their buddy, who is joining the trip, the second ticket via chat.
In all of this, users benefit from single sign-on. The super app may also recommend certain interactions with other applets based on the customer’s usage of it.
Context-Sensitive and Customer-Centric Offers
Super apps collect and analyze data from the customer to offer context-sensitive services based on location, status or recent app activities. That’s why it’s easy for them to make offers that are personally tailored. And since all mini-apps can access the same dataset, every single mini-app participates in this overarching personalization. For example, this enables a super app to easily integrate a cross-app loyalty and discount program which applet providers can profit from.
What’s more, users can customize their super app experience by choosing exactly which mini apps they want to install and use. In the future, the Metaverse and the Internet of Things will be added as interaction points for super apps, opening up new possibilities for personalization.
The Two Levels of Super App Involvement for Companies
Not all parts of the world have seen the breakthrough of super apps. But the signs of growing customer interest are unmistakable, even in previously hesitant markets. Online service providers should consider what role they want to play in an e-commerce ecosystem dominated by super apps.
For Western markets in particular, the timing is right: some big tech companies are staking out territory, but the right idea and the right time can turn the game. For financial institutions, the stakes are high: financial super apps are the next logical step in online banking.
But e-commerce companies can also benefit in many ways from participating in the super apps market:
- Super apps help them increase their brand awareness and extend their customer base generating additional revenue.
- Super apps can create new partnership opportunities and synergies for their platform, if they open it up for partners to provide specific mini-apps and services for certain customer needs.
- Super apps generate opportunities to reach new customer segments by adding new offerings to their platform.
- Super apps equip companies with useful customer data helping them to personalize offerings and increase customer conversion and revenue.
- Super apps can easily be used to provide interactive incentives for customers improving customer retention and keeping them in the ecosystem of the platform for a long time.
- And so forth.
There are two levels of entry into the super app sphere. Companies need to decide which one fits better with their business strategy and services.
Level 1: Supplying a Mini-App to a Super App Provider
All applets in a super app are customized to blend into the user interface of the platform. But this does not mean that they were also developed by the super app provider itself.
In fact, many super apps rely on partners to design mini-apps for them. These partners then sometimes also provide a certain infrastructure that allows certain functionalities. The standard example would be providers of financial services that manage payment or savings in the super app, for example.
This is also an entry point for e-commerce companies and other service providers. They can equip super app providers with marketplaces, e-wallets or loyalty program apps.
Advantages of Supplying an Applet
- Less development time and effort
- Faster exposure to potential customers
- Less responsibility for processes (e.g. regulation, data protection…)
- Integration into an already working and known applet system
Disadvantages of Supplying an Applet
- Less control over details of operation
- No full customer data ownership
- Less profit, as fees or gain sharing with the super app provider may apply
- Main brand association with super app provider
Level 2: Becoming a Super App Provider
Starting at this level needs to be carefully considered. But depending on what a company’s service portfolio looks like, it can be very worthwhile. Most of today’s popular super apps started as simple service providers – Grab serves as a good example here.
The most important thing is that the company’s main service is attractive and can reasonably act as a central hub in a diverse network of services. This can be the case for marketplace businesses that want to integrate additional services like savings, delivery tracking of different providers, peer-to-peer payments, coupon management for different brands etc. It is important that all the services combined offer the customer a recognizable added value. Customers should be led organically to another service through the use of one. The key question is: Does the app provider understand a customer’s everyday troubles and can address those with the super app?
Of course, it is also important to have an intimate knowledge of your own customer base, as well as the size and nature of the target market. Perhaps there are certain regulations that a super app provider must observe. Perhaps there are customer preferences in terms of payment methods that need consideration.
Besides, it is important to realistically assess your own capacities and domain knowledge. Developing your own super app requires the complete setup of an infrastructure in which services from completely different domains can interact.
Moreover, super app companies must guarantee unhindered information flows, data analytics and data security, both for customers and third-party partners, many of whom will be involved. Compliance measures are also the responsibility of the super app provider. What’s more, the system must be architected to be open to easily connect in new applets by partners.
Advantages of Building a Super App
- Greater control over functions and presentation of the app
- Primary exposure of own brand and services
- Best opportunities to generate higher customer loyalty and revenue
- Data sovereignty and best data analytics options
Disadvantages of Building a Super App
- Intimate market knowledge is necessary
- Large development and infrastructure design effort
- Higher costs
- Full responsibility for security, compliance and data protection
The Challenge of Super App Fintech
No super app can exist without in-app monetization. They offer paid services and goods, purchasable digital content, e-commerce platforms for users to shop in.
This makes financial technology a crucial component in any super app. Simply paying for a product purchase is only the most obvious application. Many super apps delve deep into financial services that are usually handled by banks or specialized providers, such as:
- Savings accounts
- Budget management
- Peer-to-peer money transfer
- Recurring payments and subscriptions
Some super apps are even built around core financial functions (like AliPay in China) or even operated by companies active in the digital banking sector (think the Revolut app). Traditional banks are already feeling the pressure built up by such solutions.
However, payment service providers and banks that want to provide mini payment apps for super apps often face a dilemma: In the super app world, they don’t have their hands on the controller. Super apps want to keep customers within the boundaries of the app – and mini-apps within the boundaries of their branding. Thus banks and payment providers have less control over how their service will be presented in the app. Also, they must ask themselves if it’s feasible to build a super app around their core business.
Electronic Wallets – Power-Ups for Super Apps Payments
To have full control of their payments, super apps can decide to provide an in-house payment gateway. They can even go one step further and offer a full-fledged electronic wallet. Doing so requires more effort on part of the super app provider such as:
- Applying for an e-money license
- Remaining compliant to local and global financial applications
- Ensuring data protection
- Assessing risk and conducting AML/KYC measures
- And much more. (For a full breakdown of how to build your own e-wallet, see here.)
Those efforts may be well worth the while. E-wallet-based payment systems not only allow customers to pay for services within the super app with an e-money balance or a payment method of choice. Customers can also profit from saving features, loyalty programs, peer-to-peer payments and much more.
Yet, payment gateways and e-wallets are highly complex systems. Development teams require specific domain knowledge to create them. On top comes the question of operation and maintenance.
Your Super App Needs a Wallet – CoreWallet Gives You One!
CoreWallet is the software framework of choice when building payment gateways and electronic wallets. It allows companies to break down the complexity of such systems while staying true to your app’s unique business requirements.
Create a feature-rich payment solution that keeps customers coming back. And launch it within a matter of months.