Online payment services such as Alipay are now so popular in China that I, like most of my friends and even my parents, barely carry any cash while shopping, no matter if I am visiting a supermarket for groceries or dropping by a cafe for a latte, or even tipping a waiter in a hotel.
So, one day during my vacation in Japan in October, like always I got out of the hotel taking nothing but my cell phone. Only after the taxi I rode on drove for some two kilometers did I notice that I don’t have cash to pay for the ride.
I asked the driver if we could drive back to the hotel for my purse. He surprised me by showing the QR code of Alipay, a mobile and online payment platform operated by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, and said it was okay for me to just pay by scanning it.
Even more surprisingly, the driver said he knows Alipay is getting more popular in Japan as many tourists prefer a cashless way of shopping, with a scan of a QR code rather than a handful of banknotes and coins.
Japan surprises me every time I go with its innovation in technology and amazing food. However, what surprised me even more this time was the presence of Alipay in the taxi. It seems wherever Chinese tourists go, China’s mobile payment tools follow behind.
Some 7 million mainland tourists are estimated to have traveled abroad during the National Day holiday earlier this month. Those 7 million tourists constitute just 5 percent of the total number of outbound tourists for the year. Given their large number, it is a no-brainer that the technology they habitually use follows them wherever they go.
It is not only happening in the metropolitan regions like Ginza and Shibuya. Alipay is also bridging inbound visitors and local merchants in small cities and countryside in Japan, including the small supermarket we went over in Chiba as well as numerous convenience stores such as Lawson and Family Mart.
Eric Jing, executive chairman and CEO of Ant Financial, said in September that Alipay looks forward to working with a wide range of Japanese partners. In doing so, it will contribute in some way to driving city-level economies across Japan.