I was in a taxi in Singapore last week and I couldn’t help but notice the sticker affixed to the back of the driver’s seat. In English and Chinese it read, “We accept Alipay.”
If you are a brand manager or a retailer, you’re increasingly likely to find yourself grappling with the impact of Chinese e-commerce companies in your home market. That’s for two reasons: China’s leadership in electronic payments and the continued rise in Chinese tourism. The upshot of this is that Chinese consumers are an increasingly important factor in markets around the world.
On the electronic payment front, there are some strong reasons to embrace the electronic payment systems Chinese consumers are already using. In China, the traditional wallet has been replaced by an electronic wallet on a smartphone. It’s common to make all of your payments for daily needs through that smartphone, using one of two main electronic payment providers: WeChat Pay or Alipay. WeChat Pay is part of the WeChat messaging family, owned by Tencent, and Alipay is affiliated with Alibaba.
It’s not just ease of use. These two tech behemoths have the reach and customer base to push their payment systems beyond their original e-commerce mission. Noodle shops will take electronic payments, and even street musicians have QR codes for donations. Whether you are paying your electricity bill or seeing a doctor, your mobile phone can handle the payment.
As a result, China is today the most cash-free of any of the world’s major economies – and that trend will continue. Already, the numbers are staggering. According to a survey by Ipsos and Tencent, 14% of Chinese people do not carry any cash, while 26% hold less than RMB100 (less than $16) in their wallets, day to day.
By contrast, in 2016 China’s mobile payments hit $5.5 trillion, almost 50 times the size of America’s $112 billion market, according to consulting firm iResearch.
Frank Lavin is the CEO of Export Now, the leading operator of China e-commerce stores for international brands. He previously worked on China issues in government, finance, and communications.
By Frank Lavin