China: From e-commerce to biohacking in just a decade

Today, 42% of all global e-commerce is happening in China, so it is already moving onto the next chapter: from people’s back pockets into their bodies. Huge leaps forward are being made in the fields of facial recognition, biohacking and robotization.


Firmly at the head of the tech race

It should come as no surprise that a Chinese scientist recently unveiled the world’s first genetically modified twin. China is an absolute frontrunner when it comes to (technological) innovation. What is the key to China’s stupendous growth? It is a trendsetting country, not in the least because there are barely any legal limitations, allowing for innovations to find their way to the streets very quickly. People are quick to adopt new technologies, as well, as they do not have the same privacy concerns consumers in the West have. As a matter of fact, surveillance is generally accepted by the public: 170 million CCTV cameras follow and scan citizens in the streets.

China’s 1.4 billion people are under constant surveillance, as facial recognition in China has surpassed the identification accuracy rate of the human eye. With its help, the Chinese government plans on implementing a social credit system that assesses the level of citizenship of people. Every citizen will have a score of between 350-950 points, changing in real time if offences are committed, ranging from spreading false information to committing financial wrongdoings. The system should become obligatory in 2020, but is already used in certain regions.

This is just an example of how technology is enabling the rise of this new global power. Indeed, president Xi Jinping (elected for life) speaks of a “new generation of industrial revolution” since the beginning of the 21st century, that embraces new technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things and blockchain. As such, Kentucky Fried Chicken has been able to start delivering with drones, while its ‘Pay with a smile’ action, using social media posts and selfies as a means of payment isn’t that farfetched at all for young, urban Chinese consumers. Similarly, whereas self-driving cars are still much debated and strongly prohibited on European roads, in Chinese megacities autonomous vehicles can be spotted already.


New generation of industrial revolution

All this aims to “substantially reshape the global economic structure”. As a matter of fact, Alibaba alone aims to become the world's 5th largest economy, being run as country on its own, with 100 million employees, 10 million subsidiaries and 2 billion customers by 2020. Indeed, the way to reach China’s vast consumer base is through the ecosystems of two almighty tech giants (Tencent and Alibaba), as they gobble up about 90% of the market.

Next, these market leaders aim to conquer not only China but also the world. They are forming collaborations and alliances with Western retailers and brands, helping them set up in China but in the meantime setting up digital and data services in the West as well. Alliances like these are being formed as we speak. For example: Tencent is partially backed by Walmart, but the company also collaborates with Auchan and has recently started helping Carrefour reach a breakthrough in China.


Up next: wiring the consumers’ brain

The key element in all these collaborations is data. As a 500 billion US dollar tech and retail company, Alibaba firmly believes that data is the key to victory, not sales per se. The companies and brands that handle data best, will be the winners of the future, according to Alibaba. As such, the next step is increasingly coming closer. As the award-winning author and historian Yuval Noah Harari puts it: as the tech giants begin to see the limitations of online algorithms, they realize that people have a body they want to fill up with peripherals such as biometric sensors and establish direct interfaces between the brain and computers.

So it is to be expected that biohacking and biometrics are up next, in the commercial and retail spheres as well. Point in case: a Chinese scientist just recently unveiled the world’s first ‘genetically modified’ twin, putting biohacking into (medical) practice for the very first time. What to expect next? When it comes to retailing, Alibaba’s message rings loud and clear: “Born in China, made for the world.”


Find out more about China and its part in the future of shopping? Jorg Snoeck, founder of RetailDetail and co-author of the book The Future of Shopping, traveled through China and poured his insights into a brand new keynote presentation. Join him and 35 leading retailers on the next retailhunt China, from 23 until 30 March 2019. Only two spots left, so be quick.