Where in the world is Alipay? At this point, pretty much everywhere Chinese tourists might want to go, with most of Europe and North America now supported and South America being the only major exception (besides Antarctica, though we hear the tourism scene there is heating up, so who knows — it could be next!).
Alipay, owned by China’s Alibaba Group and operated by affiliate FinTech giant Ant Financial, boasts more than 500 million registered users and plans to grow that number to exceed 2 billion within the next 10 years as it expands its global reach. It powers hundreds of millions of transactions per day.
Although building a worldwide digital payments empire is certainly a worthy goal, and well within Alipay’s reach, the company has said it’s not looking to oust competitors like Apple Pay and Android Pay on their home turf. Rather, it aims to create a seamless payments experience for Chinese citizens traveling abroad. Alipay has been around for more than a decade now, and its users are accustomed to paying for everything with their phones. When those users leave China, they often struggle to adapt to paying with cash or a credit card.
Luckily for them, Alipay acceptance has exploded across the globe in recent years. The payment method is now accepted in 70 countries and supports transactions in 14 major currencies. Here are some of the places where Chinese tourists can now leverage their favorite mobile payment tech.
Naturally, the Chinese company began its conquest close to home. More than half a million Chinese businesses and 1 million taxis use Alipay, and 300 global merchants accept it for direct sales to Chinese consumers.
However, some nearby neighbors have been slower to embrace the technology. Merchants in Malaysia only began accepting Alipay in April 2017. A partnership with the country’s third-largest bank, Public Bank Bhd, is helping to introduce merchants to the mobile wallet service. More than 5,000 now accept it, including more than 2,000 7-Eleven stores and, as of last month, all 242 Starbucks branches across the country.
It wasn’t until late August that Ant Financial even began discussing offering a localized mobile wallet for consumers in Singapore — although the original Alipay app can be used at approximately 300 merchants in Chinatown as well as with 17,000 taxis in the country.
Singaporean finance experts and banks are saying they’d rather introduce an “interoperable” solution, as they believe that is what the cashless movement will need to really take off.
An August partnership with leading Russian bank VTB should pave the way to support at 100,000 merchants across the country, which spans both Asia and Europe. The bank expects the greatest demand to come from Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Blagoveshchensk and Irkutsk along the Chinese border on the Asian side of Russia, and from Moscow and Saint Petersburg on the European side.
Alipay has also set its sights on Japan, whose economy remains primarily cash-driven. Despite its reputation for flashy, futuristic tech, Japan may be a tough sell in terms of mobile payments. But, it wasn’t so long ago that cash ruled in China, too, and look how far Alipay has come there. In other words, there’s still hope that Japan will jump on the Alipay bandwagon, though specific plans are so far lacking.
With Alibaba holding a large stake in India’s electronic payment and eCommerce platform Paytm and its affiliates, it seems likely that India could also find itself on the shortlist for Alipay’s future expansions.
International tourism has been on the rise among Chinese consumers, especially millennials, and Europe stood out early as the top destination for tourists traveling outside of Asia. Therefore, it was a logical first step for Alipay as it began to branch out.
The app launched in Europe in 2016, allowing Chinese tourists to pay for their purchases while visiting the region. It used location services to provide users with information about nearby restaurants, shopping and attractions accepting Alipay.
In the ensuing year, Alipay has teamed up with point of sale (POS) providers like Payworks and forged partnerships with European entities to increase merchant acceptance of the technology. In Dec. 2016, Ant Financial signed agreements with BNP Paribas, Barclays, UniCredit and Six Payment Services.
BNP Paribas will facilitate Alipay payments through its merchant network in France and, down the road, in other European countries. Approximately a dozen merchants in Monaco recently started accepting Alipay through their connections to the bank.
Barclays will do the same across the U.K. and Europe, eventually integrating Alipay capabilities within its own Barclaycard POS solution. Similarly, UniCredit is launching Alipay in Italy. All told, these partnerships could potentially pave the way to acceptance of the payment platform in more than 900,000 retailers across Europe.
So far, in Britain, Alipay can be used at stores such as Harrods and Selfridges. It is accepted in France at Printemps, at the Zwilling store chain in Germany, at Frankfurt and Munich airport shops and, of course, in many other locales whose ranks are perpetually growing.
In May, Alipay shook hands with U.S. payment processing firm First Data to offer its mobile payments at the POS for more than 4 million U.S. retail partners.
Ant Financial has also agreed to buy U.S.-based cross-border remittance provider MoneyGram for $880 million, giving it access to the firm’s 2.4 billion bank and mobile accounts. Those represent potential new customers toward the 2 billion count, and MoneyGram stands to profit if Alipay opens up access to international citizens.
Meanwhile, in Canada, 600 merchant outlets across every major city in the country are now accepting Alipay through a partnership with mobile payment service startup Motion Pay Technology Inc. Motion Pay created a secure, handheld POS terminal to facilitate payments for Chinese tourists, students and immigrants using Alipay and WeChat, China’s popular messaging platform-turned-payment-method.
Chinese tourists in South Africa will now be able to pay with their Alipay smartphone apps at 10,000 merchants across the country thanks to a partnership announced last week with local mobile payment platform Zapper. In June, Alipay launched an online payment service for hop-on, hop-off bus ticketing in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Australia, New Zealand and Oceania
Alibaba’s Melbourne office opened in February, and the group is working on its merchant strategy, searching for SMBs who will adopt Alipay acceptance to better serve Chinese tourists.