“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.
A key aspect of Globalization is the ability to find the same products and services that we value at home in cities overseas. It is clear that such Global products and services have grown in presence whether we are thinking of the iconic iPhone or Starbucks Coffee or uber-style taxi booking. Yet they are not totally seamlessly usable in different countries.
Photo: Starbucks outlet in Shanghai by Colin Speakman
For example the iPhone that I wrote this article on in Shanghai is connected by ChinaUnicom to a China Apple Store where quite a few of the kind of apps I have readily installed in the USA or the UK are simply not available - indeed Apple have been in the news recently for removing a chunk of them at the request of the Chinese authorities.
Starbucks was also in the news recently for making its largest acquisition to date by buying its own stores in the Yangtze River Delta region - Shanghai with Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces - right here in China. "Did it not already own them?" I hear you ask - well not completely because like many business operations in China, they were initially set up as joint ventures with a local partner, typically 50-50. That kind of arrangement often prevents completely seemless sharing of the product benefits as different financial entities are involved.
Photo: less than global Starbucks cards by Colin Speakman
So living mainly in China I have a Starbucks Gold Card to collect the free coffees deal - but I cannot use that card in London when I am temporarily back there - I must maintain another card - with a nice Union Jack on it! In fact I cannot even use the China version in Hong Kong (yes it is part of China since 1997) since Starbucks there are not owned by Starbucks but a franchise! The bringing of those Shanghai Starbucks under full Starbucks USA ownership will not change the acceptability of a USA Gold Card I am afraid.
Photo: global airline cards by Colin Speakman
Yet such shared use of membership cards is not impossible - separate airlines have long ago figured out how to code share on each other flights, how to form airline alliances such as the Star Alliance to allow members all over the world to share benefits - happily my United Airlines Lifetime Gold Card (earned from being a million miler!) gets me into the Air China Lounges in Shanghai and Beijing and some points for flying the China flag carrier- Starbucks please note this.
Photo: shared bike options in Shanghai by Colin Speakman
So against that background, I am wondering how many of the new shared services that visitors to big Chinese cities can now see rolled out - shared rental bikes, shared phone chargers, even shared umbrellas (well it can rain in Shanghai) will be truly shareable in a global sense.
This has two elements as I see it. Firstly will we see similar services reach other Global Cities? In some cases I think so, if we take the shared bikes example - a big player in China - Mobike - just launched a service in London - in the borough of Ealing where I live when there!
Photo: Mobike on the streets of London — courtesy of China Daily
That sounds great but the second aspect is, will we be able to access these services that we are "customers" of while visiting another global city? Sadly, it will not be so simple as switching on my Mobike app from Shanghai and scanning a QR code in London - it will not work - I will need to register again, download a local version of the app and pay another bike deposit. Of course, if a visitor to China who has never used sharing apps wants to start, they will first need to open a Chinese bank account, fund a Chineee smartphone payment wallet and and verify their ID with a registered local cell phone number.
Is this good enough in our global society? Well we should remember that for a very long time, we have been able to travel the world with our bank plastic cards and make local payments and the issuer handle the currency conversion issues. It is not impossible to have globally recognised memberships in connected or even the same companies. Will this be the next wave of true globalization? I am encouraged by the news that a very popular Chinese payment app called WeChat Pay is being introduced in Europe to help Chinese visitors spend their money. Money will be the driving force. Yes we are seeing more globalization but with some annoying limitations! I don't however think we will end up only using Bitcoin!