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Wallets becoming a thing of the past

By He Wei in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-05 07:57
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Buyers draw a lottery, which was hosted by Alipay in a department store in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. [Photo by Dou Yiming/for China Daily]

When was the last time you fumbled in your wallet and gave notes to the cashier?

In China, wallets could literally become obsolete as mobile payment rapidly sweeps the country, according to a recent study from payment tool Alipay.

Residents are increasingly relying on cellphones to pay for meals, unlock shared bikes and make medical appointments, with 82 percent of Alipay's 520 million users adopting digital wallet services last year, the company said in a study that tracked users' consumption profile last year.

A total of 11 provinces have seen the proportion of mobile payment exceed 90 percent, up from just one province in the previous year. Guizhou and Shanxi provinces shared the top spot with 92 percent of mobile payment rate.

Such a trend is evident from the dwindling need for physical wallets. The number of searches for wallets dropped for the first time in three years across Alibaba Group's multiple shopping sites, according to the company.

One reason driving such exponential growth is the proliferation of a merchant-version QR code, which customers can scan via their phones and be redirected to online payment. Alipay said over 40 million mom-and-pop stores have enabled mobile transactions by embracing such codes.

Mobile payment has also penetrated public utilities and civic affairs. Public transportation services in some 30 cities now allow residents to pay for their rides with phones, while for over 200 million people registering marriage licenses and paying traffic fines are among the services available with a few taps on the gadget.

A credit-rating system developed by Alipay has helped those with good credit records to be exempt from deposits of all sorts, with a combined value of over 40 billion yuan ($6.16 billion) last year.

Mobile payment has also given philanthropy a digital makeover. Alipay's services have become accessible across 795 poverty-stricken counties and regions in China, providing easier payment and loan services.

Mobile payments in China were a $9 trillion market in 2016, according to iResearch, which is almost 90 times the size of the US mobile-payment market of $112 billion, according to data from research firm Forrester.

Just last year, tens of thousands of foreign merchants across 36 countries and regions accepted Alipay as a payment option, with the total transaction numbers tripling year-on-year.

"It has become the default way of life now," said Shiv Putcha, an analyst with research firm IDC. "Literally every business and brand in China is plugged into this ecosystem."

Two payment platforms, Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd's WeChat Pay, handled around 90 percent of China's online payments by transaction value, iResearch said.

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