So much more to QR Codes …in China

It’s always so fascinating to read about how internet in general and messaging apps/social media platforms in particular have evolved very differently in China than in the west. That’s why a post from Andreessen Horowitz about how QR codes are used in China was so interesting – I now know that QR codes are used way more extensively than anywhere else in the world. 

There seem to be two key use categories. The first one is social media and messaging typically WeChat groups. WeChat groups are nothing like Whatsapp groups where the group is typically of people who know each other or already have something in common (like an office or apartment building). In China, WeChat groups have evolved very differently. There are WeChat groups for everything ranging from groups of travelers in the same country at the same time to gyms to shopping groups to club goers to new parents and so on. WeChat groups can be long lasting or ephemeral – and most of these could take off and thrive because WeChat allows something that WhatsApp or other western apps don’t – anonymity. There is a separate post from Connie Chang on a16z about WeChat groups here.

The second use category is payments dominated by WeChat payments and Alipay. After demonetization and UPI, India is starting to see QR codes for payments more commonly in India (my paanwala for instance uses a QR code). But I don’t think India or any other country comes even close to the ubiquity of their use in China.

Here are the ways the post listed:

1. Bars: meet other people in bars, request music, interact with the DJ, tip bar staff, join the club/DJs WeChat group.

2. Track your food’s supply chain from ‘farm-to-supermarket’.

3. Scan QR codes on product dispensers in malls to get free/almost free product samples.

4. Rent power banks at malls, cinemas, airports, etc. 

5. Pay for your lunch/food in cafeterias/food courts.

6. Buy toilet paper in public restrooms (seriously-or else you bring your own!). 

7. Offline advertising

8. Book sessions at ‘front-desk free’ gyms.

9. Pay for ‘no-staff’ capsule’ gyms (I did not even know these existed). 

10. Rent bikes, order food on trains, pay for public transport, etc. 

11. Shopping outside of China. Since Chinese tourists now account for an increasing share of tourist revenue, more and more tourist shopping shops outside of China have started allowing QR code based payments. 

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