China’s Digital Wallets Offer a Glimpse at the Future of Payments
Chinese consumers conduct 11 times more mobile payments than their counterparts in the United States, so as we look to the future of digital wallets, China is a natural place to start.
Forecasts for mobile payment adoption in the United States remain flat for now; however, two major brands – WeChat and AliPay – offer a glimpse of what the future may eventually hold for mobile payments in North America.
Digging Through WeChat’s Wallet
WeChat, a platform owned by Tencent, is a force to be reckoned with. It’s fast closing in on one billion monthly active users (MAUs), and the average user spends over an hour on the app each day.
WeChat users aren’t just unusually chatty – there’s actually a high level of utility to the platform that North American apps have yet to match. WeChat’s wallet alone is packed with features ranging from mobile payments to ride hailing. Below is a look at just some of the features.
WeChat’s wallet is packed with features that are constantly evolving, but here are some current features worth noting:
Payments in the real world
“Scan-and-pay” is widely popular in China, particularly in big cities where it’s hard to find a product or a service that cannot be purchased with a mobile device. According to China Channel, over 90% of Chinese consumers have adopted WeChat as a method of payment in offline purchases. That compares with a 32% adoption rate for debit and credit cards.
WeChat has seen tremendous growth of its wallet by capitalizing on China’s tradition of gifting cash-filled red envelopes (known as hongbao). In fact, the volume of digital red packets sent has skyrocketed from 16 million to 14.2 billion in only three years.
Digital Tip Jar
WeChat also offers a glimpse at a new avenue for content creators to monetize their hard work online. WeChat’s Tip Jar feature allows users to send micro-payments to writers, musicians, artists, and more.
Splitting the bill in a busy restaurant or pub setting can be major hassle. “Go Dutch” is a feature that allows WeChat users to divvy up a bill and pay using the app. Features like Go Dutch make digital payments an appealing option because they solve a real world problem.
WeChat has robust third-party integration within its wallet. Functionality is so deep that users can order anything from transportation to home cleaning services with the push of a button. China’s largest e-commerce, group buy, and ride hailing companies are already on these platforms, but Western brands like Starbucks are getting in on the action too.
The mobile payments sector is becoming increasingly binary as WeChat and AliPay dogfight for market share. AliPay – Ant Financial’s payment brand – was once the undisputed leader in mobile payments, but the company has recently seen its market share eroded by an increasingly scrappy WeChat. WeChat has smartly leveraged its popularity and massive user base to get people using it as a payment tool as well.
ApplePay, which had high hopes for the Chinese market, continues to lag far behind domestic brands.
Growing Pains for Digital Wallets
China’s central bank recently imposed tougher rules regarding scan-and-go payments, a move that Ant Financial and Tencent are publicly praising, but that may dampen the meteoric growth trajectory of mobile payments. The new regulations take aim at aggressive tactics used to capture market share from competitors, and set limits on how much consumers can spend daily using barcode-based payments.
Despite growing pains, mobile payments and digital wallets will continue to be a dominant part of the Chinese economy. The only question is, when will the rest of the world follow suit?