Is it Time to Relook at What Super App Means in the Indian Context?

The perception that odds are stacked against Super Apps in the Indian market might hinder growth for such apps unless we redefine them to fit the Indian market.
February 5, 2024

When Hike Messenger failed to replicate WeChat’s winning formula as a Super App, its founder Kavin Bharti Mittal claimed that super apps would never work in India. His reasoning was that Indian internet users have easy access to smartphones and data, and they do not shy away from downloading numerous apps. Valid as it may be, but the problem with such a deduction is that this idea of what a Super App is and what it should do is very much rooted to the ways of the super apps in China.

What works in China, in the super app context, might not ever work in India, or for that matter any other country with a free market, owing to the macroeconomic factors at play. Indian users are exposed to a global market of apps, Chinese users are shunned away from it. So, naturally Indian users have a lot more options to choose apps from, adopt them if they like and discard them if they don’t. In such conditions, Mittal’s observation seems to make sense, but only if we look at it from the perspective of a Chinese Super App. We don’t have to do that anymore. Especially because Indian users have been using super apps for a couple of years now, although the apps never openly claimed to be super apps. So, maybe it is time we formulate our own definition of super apps and understand the way it works in the Indian context.

The Usual Suspects

Soon after its successful run as an online transaction platform and neck-to-neck competition with Flipkart, Snapdeal and other ecommerce players, Paytm garnered interest from Alibaba, Softbank, Ant Group and Tata Sons. It instantly forayed into the Chinese Super App domain. It began an in-app chat feature ‘Inbox’ and a mobile gaming platform ‘Gamepind’. It eventually lost the momentum and Paytm pivoted to its initial offering as a payment app, added with non-banking financial services, ticket, travel and stay booking, and integrated ONDC. ‘Inbox’ shut down in a year of its inception, Gamepind was renamed and hosted separately like their ecommerce platform.

But, in recent years, Paytm as a payment app has increased customer engagement on its platform with additional microapps within its app. Is it a success story? Maybe it's too early to call it that. Is Paytm a super app? In the Indian context, absolutely.

SBI chairman Dinesh Khara said that their app YONO is a Super App because it has three broad components — banking, subsidised products and a marketplace. That sentiment would surely find a place among other banks doing the same with their online and mobile banking channels. And by that definition, every Indian banking and payment app is a super app if they offer customers the option to access multiple services, including a marketplace, from within one app. Even Amazon, with its Amazon Pay microapp has evolved into a super app from being just an e-commerce app.

But why do we need a Super App?

For the users, super apps are all about convenience. The general notion is to forget about switching between apps to accomplish tasks online. For owners of super apps, it is about increasing customer stickiness. The microapps are tools to engage and cross-sell, and an effective loyalty reward system is the tool to retain customers and keep them coming back. For businesses operating on these Super apps, it is a powerful platform to be seen by the highly engaged, transactional-intent users. So, it is a win-win-win for everyone involved.

The negative aspect of it is that Super Apps usually have a tendency to mirror the monopolistic nature of businesses from the real world. While the Government of India has implemented methods to check that, businesses are known to find ways to circumvent those. As the CEO of Lazada, Chun Li in 2022 said that technology companies should steer away from creating walled-garden super apps and instead strive for an open and collaborative environment. Even the Chinese government launched a crackdown on monopolistic behaviour of some of its homegrown enterprises, reportedly, for fair competition.

The ‘Perfect’ Super App

Among reasons that led to a bad start for TataNeu, the one that shone the brightest was its clear lack of purpose reflected by its cluttered interface. Users felt that features were crammed together with zero consideration for what a user journey might look like. Good interfaces are the result of a well-thought out user experience (UX) design. A super app is an app and UX should top the list of items in the success recipe.

A common perception about banking apps is that they have bad UX, and that is not at all incorrect. UX in banking apps always feels like an afterthought. Only recently, after stiff competition from non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and apps in the fintech space, Indian banks have considered investing in their apps’ user experience. A lot is yet to be done if they want to compete with the new-age finance and payment apps head-on. And a lot can be done to transform these bank apps into super apps with real value for their customers.

Is India ready for superb apps?

Studies claim that the global Super App market is targeted to grow at a CAGR of 28.9% to reach the value of $722.4 billion in 2032. India has enough success stories to lead the way and claim its share in the global market. With internet penetration over 53% and the second highest digital population globally, India is ready, not for simple umbrella, walled-garden everything apps, but for Superb Apps: Apps that put customer convenience and user experience at the front to drive the customer’s needs and the businesses’ objectives forward.