In China, mobile payments are all the rage. In fact, options like Alipay and WeChat Pay, which are the leaders in mobile payment services, have been around for much longer than we’ve had Apple Pay or Android Pay in the US. And there are a lot of different ways to pay with your phone over there. In contrast to Western countries, where we are just starting to get used to digital payments, people in Mainland China are more accustomed to using mobile payment methods than paying with debit cards.
Nearly 80% of Chinese urban shoppers use mobile payment systems in most of their payment transactions. In this blog post, we will explain the phenomenon of online and mobile payments in China and present the most popular mobile payment platforms, that are important to know if you’re aiming to do business in the Chinese market.
An overview of the digital payments landscape in China
Mobile payments in China are something that has been used long before we started digital payments in the West. There were more than 956 million mobile payment users in 2023, which is around 68% of the whole Chinese population. It is predicted that by the end of 2023, digital payments value in the country will reach 3.63 trillion dollars, putting the country as a leader, with the United States and its 1.8 trillion dollars following China’s footsteps.
Chinese people use mobile payment platforms to pay in restaurants or for food delivery, to pay for shopping online and offline, but also to pay their bills, or to pay for the services they use. Of all the users of mobile payments, around 99.8% use them daily, ranging from one up to three usages per day (54.9%) up to more than 10 usages per day.
How China’s society became cashless?
While people in developed countries around the world were slowly switching from cash payments to bank card payments, Chinese netizens were going toward becoming a cashless society. It all started in 2004 when Alibaba Group introduced Alipay, a mobile payment system, with the purpose of making the purchasing process on Taobao easier and faster for Chinese consumers.
After the introduction of smartphones, things started to heat up with WeChat wanting to have a piece of that cake. WeChat Pay, a mobile payment platform built in the WeChat ecosystem was introduced in 2013. As WeChat is the most popular social media app in China, with 1.26 billion monthly active users as of 2023, it’s not a surprise that WeChat payments became widely used by users of the app.
In 2015, roughly 35% of smartphone users were using mobile payment systems, while today the number went up to around 80%. Such a fast development resulted in the lack of the use of bank cards. Chinese people either use them on very rare occasions or don’t use them at all.
How do mobile payment transactions work in China?
There are several different ways to pay via mobile in the West, while in China all the systems are unified, based on QR codes, that are widely used for many purposes in the country. Every mobile payment platform works similarly there, offering two options for mobile payment transactions;
- Scanning a QR code displayed on someone else’s phone, a website, an e-commerce platform, social media store, a physical store, or a street vendor. Then, the amount is either already set and displayed on the screen or the customer needs to type it himself and accept the payment with one click.
- Generating a QR code on your phone, with either a fixed amount or an option for the buyer to choose the amount.
One of the main reasons for such a big penetration rate of mobile payments in China is the fact that the process is very simple, intuitive, and fast. Definitely much faster than looking for cash and waiting for the seller to count it.
10 most popular online and mobile payment providers in China
When it comes to the market share of online and mobile payments in China, WeChat Pay and Alipay are undisputed leaders in the market. According to reports done by Statista, 9 out of 10 online payment users paid using these payment providers in the last 12 months.
What is important to understand is that Chinese people don’t choose one payment provider from the available ones but use at least two of them simultaneously, depending on the type of purchase. For example, when they are buying something on Taobao, they will pay using Alipay, while they will use WeChat Pay to send money to a friend or top up their phone.
WeChat Pay and Alipay: a royal couple of all mobile payment platforms
As we already mentioned, Alibaba’s payment method and Wechat’s payment method are the leaders and main competitors in the market. Let’s see what contributes to their success;
Alipay is China’s biggest online payment system with around 50% market share. This online payment system has developed partnerships with at least 19 Chinese national banks and 40 local commercial banks.
Apart from being the most popular payment provider in China, Alipay is also the biggest mobile payment provider in the world, with 1.3 billion users in 2023. One of the reasons for its popularity is the fact that it is the payment method used by Taobao and Tmall, the biggest e-commerce platforms in China. As Alibaba doesn’t allow WeChat Pay on its platforms, all the users of these e-commerce sites use Alipay for all their purchases there.
Alipay provides safe, trustworthy, and convenient online and mobile payment systems to Chinese shoppers because the money is only transferred to the merchant when the shopper has accepted and is satisfied with the product.
Can foreign companies and individuals set up an account on Alipay?
Fortunately, Alipay allows foreign companies and individuals to start an account and use Alipay on daily basis. Here are the steps to take in order to start using Alipay payment options:
- Go to the Alipay website and click on “Merchant” to select the type of account you’re interested in. Luckily for all non-Chinese speakers, the website is also available in English.
- Go through the registration process and submit your application
- After submitting the application, you’ll need to go through the qualification process, where you’ll need:
- Company registration number
- Personal ID and contact details
- Legal details
- Copy of your business license
- Company bank account
- Company financial records
- Apply formally for Alipay products – after the qualification process you will be asked to apply formally
- Integrate the Alipay payment method into your business – this will require developers’ help.
Since 2023, Alipay introduced the option of using international cards to pay. There is no need for a Chinese bank account or cooperation with financial institutions for you to be able to pay with Alipay now, and all you need to do is to add your international bank card to the app.
Setting up an Alipay account as a foreign company costs approximately $1000. Additionally, Alipay counts up to 3% of ongoing transaction fees.
WeChat Pay is a mobile payment platform that is a built-in WeChat super-app. This feature was introduced in 2013 and has gained a lot of popularity since then. Today, it’s been used by the majority of users of mobile payments, as it’s very convenient for everyone that has an account on WeChat and prefers to pay using a mobile phone.
Every WeChat Pay user can access a mobile wallet inside the app, that allows users to transfer money through the generation of QR codes and pay for services like taxis, purchase goods in WeChat Stores, pay for grocery shopping, order food, buy flight tickets, send money to friends, pay for shared bills in restaurants and many more. WeChat Wallet is also a place where users can deposit money for future use in the app.
Every WeChat user interested in this feature can link his/her Chinese bank card with the wallet. What is downside is definitely the fact that WeChat doesn’t support foreign bank card owners, but there are ways to be able to use WeChat as a foreign company;
How can foreign companies and individuals set an account on WeChat Pay?
Since 2023, WeChat, following Alipay, allowed foreigners to use WeChat Pay with foreign bank cards. The process is very straightforward and you can add your bank card to the app in just a few minutes. We explained how to do it here.
Other mobile payment systems available in China
Apart from WeChat Pay and Alipay, which are indisputable leaders among Chinese payment providers, there are many more payment systems available for Chinese consumers, that prefer to use mobile apps and mobile wallets instead of other, more ‘old-fashioned’ payment options.
UnionPay is a Chinese bank card association and the only interbank network in China. It was founded in 2002 as a cooperative venture between the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. International cross-border commerce merchants in China are choosing to offer return policies for card payments instead of offering cash on delivery options. Because of that, UnionPay card payments are becoming a preferred online payment method for foreign companies.
UnionPay is the world’s second-largest card network by the number of cards issued, after Visa. In addition to standard debit and credit cards, UnionPay also issues co-branded cards with several international airlines and hotels. UnionPay serves as both a domestic and an international payments network. In China, UnionPay operates as a debit card network but also offers cross-border transactions with merchants around the world.
JD Pay is a mobile payment platform developed by the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com. It allows Chinese consumers to pay for goods, services, and financial products with their mobile phones. JD Pay was first introduced in August 2014 as a way for customers to pay for products on JD.com’s website using their smartphones. In March 2016, JD Pay added support for payments made through WeChat.
JD Pay is available as one of the payment apps on iOS and Android devices. To use the service, users need to create a JD Pay account and add credit or debit cards from Visa, UnionPay, or Mastercard.
Tenpay has been developed in 2005 by Tencent which also owns QQ.com, a popular social platform in China. Through Tenpay, companies, and consumers can send and receive payments online in a secure way. In addition, this payment system allows users to charge their mobile devices.
Tenpay also has launched a payment system on QQ.com called QQ Wallet, a function similar to WeChat Wallet. Although Tenpay is on the market for much longer than WeChat, it didn’t succeed in becoming the leader of digital payment systems in China and the biggest Alipay competitor like WeChat.
Apple Pay and Huawei Pay
Apple Pay and Huawei Pay are mobile payment systems developed by technological giants: Apple and Huawei. They are very similar to each other, allowing users of their devices to pay for goods and services with a built-in payment app, that can be linked with different Chinese bank accounts or international credit cards. What is interesting is that those apps, also known in the West, needed to implement the QR code payment technology for the Chinese market, as in other countries payments are done using near-field communication.
Duoduo is one of the payment systems developed by e-commerce giants to make online shopping easier and more convenient for Chinese consumers. Duoduo was launched in 2020 by Pinduoduo, one of the biggest e-commerce platforms in China. The launch date was a strategic move, as Pinduoduo, due to an option of group buying, became one of the most used platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic. It won’t be a surprise then that the user penetration rate that year reached 86%.
Baidu Wallet is a mobile payments app developed by Chinese internet giant Baidu. It allows users to make payments and transfers, as well as store loyalty cards and coupons. The app also offers a range of other services, including wealth management, hotel bookings, and online shopping.
Paypal is one of the most popular payment systems in the world. As of 2023, Paypal has more than 426 million active users and is available in more than 200 markets in the world. Users can transfer money using 25 different currencies worldwide. In 2019, Paypal acquired a Chinese-licensed payment company named Gopay, becoming the first foreign payment company with a Chinese license.
What are the benefits of digital payment systems in China?
As China is heading towards becoming the biggest cashless society in the world, digital payments in China are something that foreign companies should not neglect if they want to succeed. There are many benefits of using online payments, which can be divided into benefits for consumers and benefits for companies;
- Convenience – this is the biggest benefit of using cashless payment systems, as it takes less time to pay with a phone than looking for a credit card or cash in your wallet or pockets. There are also many options that help customers share the bills, send money to friends, and so on.
- Everything is in one place – mobile wallets, especially WeChat Wallet, have a lot of functions and services that are all in one place. There is no need to look for an option of ordering a taxi, tapping up the phone, or paying the bills, as everything is in one app.
- Tax refunds – the major players on the market, Alipay and WeChat Pay started a partnership with tax refund institutions. Thanks to that, consumers can now secure rebates on their purchases.
- Security – all mobile payment systems are very well secured and sometimes it’s just more safe to buy products, especially expensive ones, using mobile payment methods than cash.
Apart from the benefits mentioned above, which are also important for business owners, here are some additional ones;
- Individual approach to customers – Alipay and Wechat pay offer the possibility to create special offers and marketing campaigns. Customers can receive coupons and special offers on products they were interested in and ads for those similar to their interests.
- Customers are willing to spend more – a lot of reports show that people are willing to spend more with mobile payment methods. This is especially important when it comes to Chinese tourists traveling abroad, as they are not used to paying by cash. Offering Chinese consumers an option of mobile payment puts you ahead of your competitors.
- Improved Customer Loyalty – Offering mobile payments can also help to improve customer loyalty.
Implement Chinese payment systems in your strategy to win an audience in China
In order to capitalize on the Chinese market, it is important that you offer payment options that Chinese customers are comfortable with. We recommend using one or more of the major Chinese payment systems to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy from you. By doing so, you will be putting yourself in a much better position to win over this lucrative audience and grow your business.
Which system of payment in China should you choose? Contact us!
With so many mobile payment systems in China that are unknown to the Western world, it might be confusing and hard to know which one will be the best for your brand. If you’re interested in implementing one or more digital payment options into your business, don’t hesitate to contact us.
We are China digital agency with more than 10 years of experience working with international brands. We have more than 1000 satisfied customers from all over the world, whom we helped with putting their businesses on the Chinese market. Our team consists of Chinese and foreign professionals that can walk you through the process of setting up an account on China’s mobile payment providers.