Shoppers reaching for phones instead of wallets

Updated 2017-01-23 09:56:45 Shanghai Daily
Most urban Chinese now prefer mobile payment at supermarkets.(Photo/Shanghai Daily)

Most urban Chinese now prefer mobile payment at supermarkets.(Photo/Shanghai Daily)

Before an early afternoon meeting, Ni Jia decided to grab a quick lunch at the McDonald's branch near her office in Xujiahui. It was the peak of the lunch rush in the downtown commercial area.

She walked directly to one of the restaurant's self-service kiosks, bypassing long queues of customers waiting at the cashier desk.

She paid for her meal via Alipay on her smartphone, and even got a free snack thanks to the mobile payment.

Ni is among hundreds of millions of Chinese people now using mobile payment services such as Alipay and WeChat to purchase everything from food and taxi rides to haircuts and movie tickets. Seeing this fast-growing trend, businesses across the country — from multinational chains to tiny street vendors — have rushed to join this revolution.

McDonald's was one of the first restaurant chains in China to offer a comprehensive range of mobile payment options, including UnionPay, Apple Pay, WeChat Wallet, Alipay, QQ Wallet and ICBC QR code. According to its Vice President of Communications, Regina Hui, cashless payments grew from 4 percent of all transactions to 40 percent in 2016.

Ni, a receptionist, opened her Alipay account about three years ago. She says she was quite late to the service compared with most of her friends.

"Before then I generally paid cash and always carried my credit or debit cards, until I attended a reunion dinner with my high school classmates," she recalls.

They decided to go Dutch after the dinner, and most of her schoolmates took out their smartphones to pay with either Alipay or WeChat.

"I didn't have much cash with me at the time, so I had to transfer the money later when I was back at home. At that time, I realized I needed a cashless payment app," Ni says.

At the end of 2016, users of Alipay received a statement of their transactions for that year, and many were surprised by how much they had spent. According to data released by Alipay, Shanghai users ranked first for spending, shelling out an average of 148,000 yuan (US,466) per person last year.

"I was surprised that some people spent over 500,000 yuan last year through Alipay," Ni says. "Some netizens are even joking that they need to record the names of these rich guys, just in case they need help one day."

Ni received her own statement, which showed she spent about 80,000 yuan in 2016, about 40 percent of which went toward maternity and baby items. The 33-year-old Shanghai native is five months pregnant and expecting for her first child.

"The previous year, I spent more on dining out, clothes and food delivery; now the annual statement reminds me that my life's direction is changing," she says.

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