Many consumers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and much of Europe are no doubt familiar with mobile payment technologies and digital wallets like Apple Pay; launched in October 2014 by Apple Inc., as well as other competing solutions like Samsung Pay or Google Wallet. But have you ever heard of Alipay – a major player in the Chinese mobile-payments market which seeks to accelerate consumers into a truly cashless society? Well if you haven’t, keep reading, because of Chinese Tech giants – like Alibaba who back Alipay and WeChat who are affiliates of Tenpay – are now aggressively focusing on European markets.
Alipay is a unique mobile-payments technology operated by Ant Financial, an affiliate of the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Interestingly, it launched in 2004, a full 10 years before Apple Pay. And that was a full 12 years after Alipay entered the Chinese market. Alipay’s headquarters are located in Shanghai, China, and you guessed it, it was created by the legendary Jack Ma. As of January of this year, Alipay has over half a billion users registered (520 million to be exact), with 100 million active users using the platform daily. However, hot on Alipay’s heels is another mobile payment solution, Tenpay, a similar service buoyed by WeChat. By the final quarter of last year (Q4, 2017), Alipay had just over half of the Chinese market share when it came to third-party, mobile-payment providers, while Tenpay was just shy of 40%.
What is interesting and truly unique about Alipay and Tenpay’s payment solutions, is that rather than storing a digital copy of your credit or debit card on a mobile device, Alipay uses a QR code to make unique payment transactions and authentication possible. For example, when eating out, all a consumer needs to do is present their unique QR code generated on their mobile app, which can then be scanned by the store, and presto, your meal is paid for right there and then! No more having to carry about cash or cards, whether they are physically or digitally stored.
Is it possible that we may see something like Alipay or Tenpay here in the not too distant future? Well, that is what both companies are hoping for. The Chinese Tech titans which are backing their mobile-payment platforms are looking to quickly expand into foreign markets, signing partnerships with merchants in Southeast Asia region as well as Europe. Their entry ticket? They are following Chinese shoppers aboard and hoping to capitalize on the promise of booming tourism.
It is no secret that it has been difficult for western companies to break into the heavily controlled and regulated Chinese market, which is undoubtedly why we see certain of these same technologies not making their way into these markets until much later, if even at all – think censorship and Facebook. Nevertheless, this might have its advantages when it comes to truly free, global and competitive market-place, with customers vying for the best products at the best prices, even if this only takes place largely outside China – for now.
With the recent developments in cardless cash, NFC contactless payment and digital wallets, mobile-payment solutions clearly appear to be the future when it comes to instore, merchant transactions. And given that quarterly data is now showing that the transaction volume through mobile payments is forging into trillions of $USD, overtaking cash in many economies, it is clear that traditional companies in this space that we have all come to know and love – like Apple Pay, Android Pay, Google Wallet, Paypal Here, and others – may see new, cutting-edge, alternative technologies from the far-east rival them for customers in their own home markets in the near future.