Bitcoin users in China stuffed the cryptocash into virtual red envelopes to the tune of 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) over the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday, Tech in Asia reported.
According to the OKCoin Bitcoin exchange, most of those transactions were made through Tencent’s WeChat app, which was also how most non-bitcoin virtual red envelopes were sent. About half a million people used OKCoin’s OKLink account on WeChat to send bitcoin gifts to friends and family members — with an appropriately red screen for the app during the week-long holiday.
That’s a respectable showing for bitcoin, at least until you consider just how big the virtual red envelope haul was in traditional currencies.
Alibaba, whose Alipay payments system is the most widely used in conventional Chinese e-commerce, said its users sent about 4 billion yuan ($642 million) just during Chinese New Year’s Eve on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Almost a million red envelopes were sent out by the company randomly to Alipay users under the name of Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
But for once, Alipay was apparently the payments runner-up. WeChat blocked Alipay links before the Spring Festival celebration started in order to get its users to try WeChat’s own money-sending service. And it worked — Tencent didn’t disclose how much money was sent over the holiday, but did report that 1.01 billion virtual red envelopes were sent through WeChat on New Year’s Eve.
The success of the Alipay-blocking tactic makes it look increasingly likely that Tencent will use a similar approach as it tries to gain a foothold in payments and mobile banking. WeChat is as dominant in Chinese social media as Alipay is in e-commerce payments, and both Tencent and Alibaba are launching online banks this spring. The competition between them is likely to leverage all the resources each side can muster.
In the meantime, no one is blocking Bitcoin, and Beijing-based OKCoin plans to launch the OKLink money-sending feature in English soon.