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Baidu’s Ernie Bot: A New Contender in the Retail Super App Arena? Insights for Luxury Brands

The recent clearance by the Chinese government for public use of six AI models released by major Chinese tech companies has led to a significant development in the AI landscape. Among these, Baidu’s Ernie chatbot has quickly emerged as a front-runner. On August 31, it became the top free app on Apple’s App Store, attracting over a million users on its debut day. This rapid adoption underscores the growing influence of AI in consumer applications, especially in the context of Chinese tech advancements.


However, when it comes to functionality, Bloomberg’s assessment places Meituan’s Zhipu bot at the forefront, emphasizing the varied capabilities of these AI tools. Alongside Baidu, companies like Tencent, ByteDance, Meituan, SenseTime, and Baichuan have also launched chatbots. These bots, equipped with conversational UIs similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, are now freely accessible to users. This development is particularly noteworthy given that ChatGPT itself is blocked in China.


The burgeoning role of AI in luxury retail is evident globally, with major players like Kering, Zegna, and Zalando investing heavily in AI to enhance luxury consumption. In this rapidly evolving landscape, these new AI tools from China are poised to become pivotal in shaping the future of retail, possibly emerging as the next “super apps.”


In the Western market, brands have been actively leveraging OpenAI’s ChatGPT for enhancing consumer experiences. Examples include Klarna and Instacart, which have integrated ChatGPT plugins to streamline shopping experiences. A similar trend is expected to follow in China, given the country’s stringent regulations on AI services and products, including a licensing regime for AI models.


The introduction of these AI chatbots fuels the ongoing debate regarding technological leadership between the US and China. While the US has been a frontrunner in AI development, China’s recent advancements, particularly in the realm of super apps, signal its growing influence. Super apps, offering a plethora of services like food delivery, payments, e-commerce, and social media within a single platform, are a domain where China has a notable lead. Tencent’s WeChat, with its vast user base and integrated services, exemplifies the super app concept’s success in China.


Furthermore, Alibaba’s platforms like Taobao and Tmall have expanded beyond the conventional e-commerce model, incorporating features like livestreaming, entertainment feeds, and mini-games. This multifaceted approach surpasses the scope of platforms like Amazon, highlighting the innovative trajectory of Chinese tech companies.


The rapid adoption and integration of technology in China extend beyond consumer apps. For instance, the video game industry is witnessing a shift, with AI increasingly replacing human illustrators. This trend exemplifies the broader embrace of technology in various sectors in China.


In conclusion, as the AI landscape continues to evolve, luxury brands must adapt to these emerging technologies. Understanding and leveraging the capabilities of these new AI tools will be crucial for brands aiming to maintain a competitive edge in the dynamic world of luxury retail, especially in a market as significant and unique as China’s.