Reporter's take on China's mobile payment landscape
Wei Lynn Tang
I can still remember the first time I used WeChat to pay for stuff in China -- it was two years ago (September 2017), on my second day in the country.
It was exhilarating! How easy it is to get around and get things done with just my mobile (helped also by the super mobile apps in the country).
Two years on in China, it has certainly become a way of life for me here. When I head home to Malaysia, or travel to other countries, I do admittedly feel a tad unusual having to still use cash or credit card.
I use my mobile to pay for just about anything and everything you can think of in China. A case in point is just buying a snack on the street that costs only 1.50 yuan or 0.2 U.S. dollars.
All I have to do is scan the QR code of the vendor and I've paid for my breakfast.
Electricity bills? Just click on this function in my WeChat app with my account details keyed in once and recurring payments are just one click away.
China's mobile payment ecosystem has spanned across every nook and corner of the country. According to Abacus News, as of 2018, over 40 percent of people in China used their mobile to pay for stuff -- as opposed to just 20 percent in the United States.
I use WeChat or Alipay (but mostly WeChat, as that's the main messaging and communication app in China) to pay my rent, mobile top-ups, train tickets, and buy things in physical stores. And WeChat logs all of my transactions, so I can easily track how much I've spent and what I've bought!
It's good to have two main mobile payment options too as certain stores offer discounts for using WeChat or its rival Alipay, so my payment channel depends.
I transfer money to my friends with just a click on either app. All I do is click on my friend's contact on WeChat, and transfer. It saves me from having to log onto my banking website or app and to have to key in their account details.
If I may be honest, I can't remember the last time I carried cash with me. I may carry a purse with me with my ID and other cards inside, but not cash.
And let's just say -- if I ever need money but run out, I can scan a kind stranger's QR code -- without having to divulge my personal details. I tried it before once in Beijing, when I needed money to pay for my subway ticket then (the only thing I ever need cash for but apparently now even Beijing subways take WeChat pay as a payment method).
While there are risks such as that of losing my phone and possible scams, it just makes me all the more vigilant (fingers crossed I haven't had my phone stolen yet in China).
For me, the benefits of mobile payment outweigh its risks.
And perhaps I should worry more about my phone running out of battery more than anything. But alas fret not, there are plenty of rentable portable chargers around town... Again, all I have to do is just scan the QR code and pay.