WSJ D.LIVE, HONG KONG: A venture capital executive told delegates China’s new normal is mobile-only, not mobile-first, with people using WeChat to not just talk to friends, but also to unlock a bicycle, order food from a restaurant and book tickets.

Connie Chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz (pictured), said: “This means you look at your phone not as an access point but as an entry point, and this has extreme implications for how products and design take shape. The phone is a critical bridge between people’s online and offline selves.”

The piece which connects the online and offline worlds is the trend to login with phone apps. For example, people are paying for goods with WeChat at physical retail spaces, which links the retailer to their online histories.

Chan called the trend online to offline 2.0, a precursor to a seamless digital society in which online behaviour starts to influence our offline world and vice-versa.

As an example of how this is playing out, Chan pointed to trial stores being offered by Amazon and Alibaba, which have no employees and where shoppers simply walk out after picking up what they want: they login with phone apps when they enter, and cameras and sensors detect what they purchase.

Customer data
While the consumer enjoys a frictionless checkout experience, she said the retailer is the big winner as it has access to data on exactly what each customer purchased. In addition to knowing what was bought, the retailer also knows what a shopper picked up and returned, so via WeChat can retarget consumers with promotions and coupons based on the shopping behaviour.

The retailer can gain additional insight into consumers’ interest when they scan items at a store with their phone to access additional information on a product. and Walmart offer this in China.

“This means physical spaces can use digital technology to fight back against the death of retail,” she said.

Chan believes online to offline 2.0 transcends retail and offers opportunities in public spaces, the workplace and many other areas.

The mobile-only shift requires retailers to rethink the mobile experience and design websites specifically for mobile usage not a PC, Chan added.

Picture by Manuel Wong Ho for The Wall Street Journal