In the early days of the iPhone, Apple launched a slogan that stuck in our heads: “there’s an app for that“. Almost 15 years later, for some companies, one simple app is not enough to provide for their users. Now, they have super apps.
The super app concept is not new and was born far from sunny California, the birthplace of the iPhone. The idea of having a “do-it-all” app came from China, where the environment hostile to foreign companies, but porous enough to allow the entry of convenient solutions such as the modern cell phone, gave birth to apps with large user bases and countless features, such as WeChat, perhaps the pioneer of super apps.
Developing a super app is a complex task. Even so, since 2015, some Western companies have been betting on offering the super app to reproduce, here, Chinese successes such as WeChat and Meituan. Like Colombian Rappi, Brazilian fintech Inter and Brazilian retailer Magazine Luiza. It seems few players, but in a category where the ambition is to occupy most of the user’s time, it can be said that the race of super-apps is already very busy in Latin America.
How a super app is born
Rappi was already born as a super app, explains Fernando Vilela, CMO at Rappi in Brazil. In 2015, when Rappi debuted, there were only two buttons on the app: one for shopping at neighborhood markets and another for “anything,” literally.” I like to joke that [the ‘anything’ button] was our big source of insights,” says Vilela.
From the “anything” button and much talk with users, Rappi has grown to the current 14 app verticals, such as pharmacy, pet shop, delivery in up to ten minutes, and Rappi Bank, the latest of which was launched in January of this year.
Today, Inter’s super app has five verticals: banking, credit, investments, insurance and shopping.”Our strategy is to simplify people’s lives and offer a complete platform of services in a single app, which customers can use from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed,” explains Helena Caldeira, CFO of Inter.
What makes an app a super app
“A super app is defined by its ability to involve several tools used in daily life by its users,” explains Marlon Luft, Latam Marketing Manager at AppsFlyer, an app measurement company. “These are apps that offer efficiency and agility to their customers. What makes a super app is the convenience and user experience.”
Despite slight distinctions depending on who you ask, a common characteristic of super apps is recurrence.” Super app is an app that has high frequency, an app that users open more than once a day or at least once a day on average,” says Rappi‘s Vilela. Inter, as Helena said, wants its app to be accessed from the time the customer wakes up until bedtime.
Western super apps, especially those from Latin America, have a few differences from the Chinese super apps that inspired them.
In China, super apps are used for many purposes. Here, it seems that everything is about consumption or spending money. Even initiatives born with other purposes, such as the live-streaming that Rappi brought at the beginning of the pandemic, have changed their profile over time, as Vilela explains: “We saw that it no longer made so much sense to focus on this as a vertical, but rather to focus on the live-streaming platform as a stimulus to strengthen the Rappi Stores vertical.”
According to Vilela, different environments explain this fundamental difference between the two super app models. The greater openness in Latam to outside companies has allowed one of the three pillars of super apps, the social, to be dominated by North American companies. In Latin America, apps like Facebook (Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook) fulfill a role that in China is the super apps’. “Here you already had social networks, this was not a problem to be solved,” he explains.
The other two pillars of a super app, in Vilela’s view, are banking and e-commerce – not coincidentally, the sectors in which two of Rappi‘s rival super apps operate, Inter and Magazine Luiza, respectively. In Latin America, companies aspiring to become super apps would have to focus on these two pillars to become indispensable and recurrent for their users.
An important growth factor for a super app in the region is the recurrence of purchases. This is why there is so much focus on food.
This also helps to understand why Magazine Luiza has been buying food delivery startups like Aiqfome, GrandChef and Plus Delivery.
Just as an example, the five most ordered items in Rappi‘s app in Brazil in 2020 were all fresh fruits and vegetables: banana, onion, lemon, carrot and grape. For Vilela, the ranking highlights the importance of food in super apps and how speed is a determining factor: “You don’t order a banana to arrive in 15 days, you order it to arrive today or tomorrow.”
The features of Inter‘s super app are different, but the principles, or pillars, are not so different from those of its rivals: data, recurrence, integrated payment, and credit. “We can say that there isn’t a business model in the West that meets as many requirements to actually be a super app as Inter,” argues Helena.
Despite wanting to be remembered and used as long as possible, which restricts the market share of other similar apps, the two companies interviewed by LABS do not seem worried about competition.
Rappi, says Vilela, is focused on the customer, although he acknowledges that competition sometimes influences the company’s decisions: “We are much more concerned about generating value for the consumer than if tomorrow there will be a new competitor operating in Brazil or not.”
The reassurance stems from the opinion of both Rappi and Inter that the super app market will have room for more than one winning app.” It won’t be a ‘winner takes all’ [‘winner takes all’], but I think there will be three, four players in Latin America,” says Vilela. “In our view, this movement [of super apps] is very positive and there is room for everyone. In the end, the big beneficiary with the entry of new players in this digital market is the consumer,” says Helena.
Is it working?
The Latin American super app numbers, at least those public ones, also look “super”.
In the first quarter of 2021, Inter generated BRL 207.2 million in revenue, a 113% growth compared to the same period of the previous year. The base of customers who buy in the mall within the app reached 1.7 million; those who invest, 1.5 million; and those who buy insurance through the platform, 367,000. Inter has 12 million clients, that is, despite the growing numbers, there is still plenty of room to grow its verticals internally.
Rappi operates in 9 Latin American countries and, in Brazil, serves more than 100 cities. Between January 2018 and January 2021, it grew 18-fold. From the beginning of the pandemic until now, it was 2.5-fold. The company does not disclose absolute numbers.
Luft from AppsFlyer says that “what makes a super app is convenience and user experience.” About this, Rappi and Inter seem aware that, while gaining new customers is important, captivating current ones is just as important, if not more so, to achieve their goals. After all, a super app defines itself as a high recurrence app.
“We are always concerned about bringing in more people as well, but super concerned about serving well, with excellence, those users who are already in the app,” says Rappi’s Vilela. He explains that the company has two innovation teams, a disruptive one, which studies and launches new verticals, and a “sustainable innovation” one, which refines the experience of existing ones. After the launch of Rappi Bank in January, the startup has no plans for new verticals for now – although that could change if they spot an opportunity. At the moment, as the executive says, the focus is on “delivering magic” to those who are already customers.
Inter, on the other hand, has big news coming soon. In late 2020, the fintech opened its mall to non-bank clients, sending cashback to bank accounts of other institutions. The mall area will also serve as a spearhead for internationalization. At the moment, according to Helena, this initiative is in the structuring phase. The partnership with Stone and the entry of more vendors on the platform are also big bets for Inter.
Translated by Carolina Pompeo