WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging app with 650 million monthly active users, is taking its cashless in-store payments global.
The aim is for Chinese tourists heading overseas to be able to use WeChat Pay, the app’s built-in payments system which is kind of like Apple Pay, at participating stores around the world. Parent company Tencent last monthannounced the move on WeChat Pay’s corporate account within WeChat.
WeChat Pay can be used in hundreds of chain stores and thousands of locations across China. Tencent is chasing after Alibaba and its mobile wallet app Alipay, which is also supported by a huge number of restaurants and retailers across the country. In both Alipay and WeChat, in-store payments are processed when the cashier scans a QR code that either Alipay or WeChat Pay generates on the user’s phone.
WeChat will support paying in nine currencies – the US dollar, British pound, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Euro, New Zealand dollar, and Korean won – but it still only works with China-issued bank and credit cards, so any overseas spending is ultimately converted and paid for in renminbi. This means WeChat Pay is still not available to non-Chinese shoppers.
Tencent has only just opened up WeChat Pay to retailers overseas, so there’s no word on how many stores or in which locations this can be used by China’s globe-trotting, big-spending holidaymakers. Chinese tourists will spend a record high of US$229 billion abroad in 2015, according to data by Fung Business Intelligence Centre and China Luxury Advisors.
A Tencent representative declined to comment on this expansion.
If WeChat is to make an impression with Chinese tourists, it will need to partner with the stores that people go to – usually places where they can get much better prices on quality items than they can at home, such as couture stores in Paris and Milan or top department stores in major cities. London’s famed Harrods accounts for about 20 percent of all expenditure by Chinese tourists in the UK, with the number of Chinese people going to the iconic Knightsbridge department store rising about 50 percent each year.
Arch-rival Alipay is slowly rolling out overseas with a similar purpose, starting in June 2014. Earlier this year it also enabled Chinese shoppers to pay with Alipay at duty free shops in South Korea, which are hugely popular with people looking for cosmetics.