After arriving from New York 8 months ago, everything felt familiar. Transitioning from one large metropolis to another, and also having some passing familiarity to the city as I lived here when I was a teenager. Initially I hoped my transition will be easy. As I began to settle in, I began to notice subtle differences that I took for granted back at home.

As I function primarily digitally, back home everything was at the touch of a smart phone, or computer. As I navigated Hong Kong’s digital presence, paying bills was challenging, online shopping is less convenient, making reservations went through traditional phone calls, just to name a few inconveniences. Websites are antiquated, or even worse, a Facebook community page. There is no Amazon for easy shopping, only Taobao which requires Chinese reading ability. Even one of the most popular sites, Open Rice, suffers from the same language issue. The site might be in English but the content (ie the reviews) are in Chinese.

Why hasn’t HK evolved its digital footprint? I assumed Hong Kong would be close to its Western counterparts or its neighbor China. It wasn’t.

Hong Kong has a unique issue, they have too many different audiences. Generally speaking, there are 3 major groups, local HK-ers, Mainland Chinese, and Ex patriots. One of the biggest obstacles is how to capture all audiences that have different digital maturity and behaviours.

Zooming in on this issue, language is an obvious barrier. A platform will have to decide which user base do you want to capture. Does it go after the local base, and support traditional Chinese? Or should it support Simplified to capture the ongoing traffic from mainland China? English has almost become the defacto localisation language due to the large ex pat community (and its associate spending power). The MTR is successful at this. It supports all 3 of these main groups. Audio and visual queues support multiple languages, and the support staff are multilingual. MTR figured this out because they understand who their users are. If companies followed suit and invested in researching UI/UX needs, a much better product will come out.

Despite these growing pains, I can see Hong Kong maturing their digital presence quickly. In the last 8 months, I have seen companies try to start innovating. HSBC has started trying to do a payment app similar to Venmo called Payme. Uber is available and becoming more and more popular to the point where you can catch rides from Tesla owners. There are at least 3 food delivery apps (Food Panda, Deliveroo & Uber Eats) out there along with their motorcycle fleets. Jousun and Honestbee have attempted to take a crack at the grocery shopping space. Online booking reservation systems are beginning to surface (Chope), and GoGo Van has captured the small moving business.

The next 12 to 18 months will be interesting. All I need is better online shopping or learn how to read and write Chinese…

– Kevin


Kevin Tan is from New York City with a background in Finance before switching over to UI/UX 3 years ago. He is currently a Hong Kong based User Experience consultant, trying to help companies transform their products to be more user focused.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.