An employee scans a quick response (QR) code displayed on the Ant Financial Services
No cash? Your smartphone will do nicely. Chinese consumers used to spending their hard-earned cash on technology are increasingly relying on a tech solution to pay for just about anything, from breakfast to booking a vacation.
And the volume of smartphone payments has exploded, reaching a staggering $1.85 trillion last year, says Beijing-based Analysys International. Payment apps from Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial and Tencent’s Tenpay are leading the charge.
To see how far I could go in Beijing without a wallet, I spent a day armed only with my smartphone.
A beautiful day started with a great breakfast. I paid for a local delicacy called Jianbing, which is China’s version of a crêpe, at a food stall with my phone. By swiping a QR code that looked like a lop-sided checkerboard, I transferred 6 yuan ($0.87) to the shop’s owner.
I then passed a small supermarket — each checkout counter carried a sign that proclaimed: “Welcome to use Alipay!”
When it comes to transportation around the capital, you can order a cab or a private car through Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing service that recently raised $5 billion at a whopping $50 billion valuation. Alipay, Tenpay and credit cards are all accepted.
If you don’t fancy waiting in traffic, there are also bikes for rent. You can unlock these bikes by swiping a QR code. It costs 0.5 yuan ($0.07) for every 30 minutes.
Many shops have incentives to use mobile payment services because they allow them to engage customers better, said Zennon Kapron of research firm Kapronasia. After paying for a sandwich at a restaurant with Tenpay through WeChat, the waitress asked me to “follow” their public account so they can send me coupons and virtual membership cards.
On the door of a nearby fashion boutique, a sign reads: “Please use WeChat for payment.” It also accepts credit cards but not using mobile payment is increasingly considered backwards. One user on Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo recently posted that swiping a card to make purchases is just “provincial” in the age of digital wallets.
Mobile payment goes beyond daily purchases. Through both Alipay and Tenpay, you can pay utility bills, get a loan or invest in money-market funds.
Last year, Apple entered China’s mobile payment market in partnership with Union Pay. While Apple Pay was accepted at the McDonald’s I visited, 12 months on and the U.S. giant has less than 1.8% of the market — compared to Alipay’s 54%. “I wouldn’t back its chances,” said Mark Tanner of China Skinny. “The others are so well entrenched.”
From food stalls to shopping malls, almost every place I stopped by in this corner of Beijing accepted mobile payment. Cash really is becoming a thing of the past.[“Source-forbes”]