What can we learn from the design of Chinese delivery apps?

A UX analysis of Chinese delivery apps

Photo from 699pic.com

As a heavy user of delivery apps in both China and the US, I found some interesting differences between the UX designs in the two countries. This article is my attempt to present to you what I think the Chinese apps do well from a UX perspective.

Overview

There are currently 2 biggest players in the Chinese delivery app market:

Meituan

Monthly Active Users: 37.49 million

Ele.me

Monthly Active Users: 61.78 million*

(*also counting Baidu Waimai)

Both apps provide on-demand delivery services that include take-out food (both pickup and delivery), supermarket/bodega goods, fresh fruits and veggies, PostMates-like service, OTC medications, tea drinks/bakery, fresh flowers. In other words, downloading one of these apps means downloading GrubHub, UberEats/DoorDash, Instacart, and PostMates in the US.

Either one of these apps = GrubHub + UberEats/DoorDash + Instacart + PostMates in the US

Because of all the things they do, their apps cannot possibly be ‘minimalistic’ or ‘pretty’ from an aesthetic standpoint. Instead, they’re focused on creating a simple-to-learn and intuitive-to-follow shopping flow for the users — and in my opinion, quite successfully so.

What do they do well?

1. Transparency

A recent study found that there are many issues which can cause users to abandon carts during the checkout process:

  • 60%: Extra costs (shipping, taxes, fees) were too high
  • 23%: Couldn’t see or calculate total order cost up-front
  • 18%: Delivery timeline was much too slow
  • 11%: Didn’t believe the returns policy to be fair or satisfactory

Meituan and Ele.me have an identical approach to these problems. They display all the information upfront to ensure there are no surprises during the checkout process for the users. In fact, by eliminating all the hidden costs and providing other important information upfront, users will feel very much in control at the beginning of the shopping process and will find the brand to be more trustworthy.

Admittedly, this wouldn’t be easy to do in the US because the Chinese language tends to be more efficient compared to English. For example, “限时特惠” takes up the space of 8 English letters but it translates to the 18-character phrase, “Limited Time Offer”.

2. Immediate Feedback

In my previous article about the shopping experience on the Instacart app, one of the key issues is that users don’t know about the order minimum threshold and that the app doesn’t provide adequate feedback to the users when the threshold has been reached. The 2 Chinese apps have quite a smart approach to this problem:

Ele.me

Total value of the cart is placed at the tab bar area while users are selecting items. The animation and immediate change of the colors clearly indicate when the cart value has reached the minimum order threshold. (Meituan also has an identical approach.)

3. Seamless Interaction

Remember the last time you had to take a screenshot while shopping on your phone? It was probably because you had to:

A. Share the item/screen with friends/family; or

B. Report a problem to the customer service.

Meituan and Ele.me take this little detail into consideration and created popups to cater to such needs.

Once a user becomes familiar with a product, they’ll want to start using it more efficiently. When they’re in the “flow”, users want to work more quickly and want the app to feel more responsive. All of the mentioned options provided can also be found in other places in the app but by making them interactive to the screenshot gesture, it creates a seamless experience and helps maximize the efficiency for the users.

Summary

Many product designers find the complexity of Chinese apps to be an eyesore. And by coincidence, I recently read an article by Jason Brush, where he talked about Amazon’s design theory:

Amazon’s success brings into relief a principle that is sometimes hard to swallow in the design community–successful design is not necessarily beautiful. Of course, the notion that design is merely an aesthetic exercise was debunked long ago, with the canonization of research-led design thinking as a widely adopted design practice. Yet it can still be a challenge to accept that a well-designed experience may not be aesthetic.

In my opinion, Meituan and Ele.me provide exactly a ‘well-designed experience’ which ‘may not be aesthetic’.


This is my 2nd article on Medium. I’d like to thank you all who left kind words and clapped for my first article. It boosted my confidence and pushed me to write more to give back to the community. I hope you find value in this piece as well. Would welcome any feedback or input.

Let’s talk about design! :-)

My other article: