Wallets Are Outdated in China
By: Yiming Amelia Wang
Spending the summer break in China after two years living abroad will be easy and enjoyable, because everything will be familiar. Or at least that’s what I thought. However, my friend proved me wrong immediately. When we were paying for our new outfits, I took out my wallet and she took out her smartphone. “What are you doing? ” I asked curiously. She gave me a confused look, then quickly scanned the QR code on the checkout table. The cashier (who was looking at his computer all the time) nodded and handed my friend her shopping bag, then gestured for the next in line to come forward. I was shocked. The same scene happened throughout the day, and eventually on our way home. I waved goodbye to my friend from a taxi window as she used her phone to unlock one of the ubiquitous bicycles that are a part of China’s bike-sharing craze.
This system in urban China has recently became the newest lifestyle. Just two years ago people still used cash and card in daily lives, but now smartphone payments are taking over. Almost all cafes or restaurants offer digital paying choices like WeChat pay or Alipay, and people can simply order any type of food on their phones. On the other hand, public transportations are also becoming more convenient than ever. The distance progress of buses can be tracked from phones, and sharing bikes are everywhere on the street, waiting to be unlocked by scanning QR code. Even the street artists these days put their Alipay accounts on the ground, instead of cups or hats to fill in with cash. In 2016, China’s mobile payments hit $5.5 trillion, roughly 50 times the size of America’s $112 billion market, according to consulting firm iResearch.
While this cashless trend is making Chinese’s lives much easier, two private companies are actually behind the most consumer consuming phone payment platforms: Tencent and Alibaba. They make money mostly by charging other companies to use their paying platforms, and collecting customer datas all the time to be used in better advertising. However, while they are sitting on top of gold mines, some negatives effects of the mobile payment system are not to be ignored. Firstly, foreign companies who wish to sell to Chinese customers have to deal with Alipay or Wechat pay, or they might lose the business opportunity. In addition, people could game the system. The corporations could invade some people’s privacy online without asking for their permissions first.
But let’s put that aside for now. Even though it still needs improvement, it is clearly shown that the use of smartphone payment has already brought many benefits for the Chinese people. Many restaurateurs says that after having this system they don’t need to worry about giving change or being robbed. And the whole ecosystem — including the producers and consumers — will all benefit from it. After all, carrying a wallet is really becoming a thing of the past.