Let’s talk WeChat economy

Let’s talk WeChat economy

Eeva Eronen explains China’s mobile payment craze.

Perspective

“So convenient.” That was probably one of my first thoughts when I learned to use the Chinese mobile app WeChat back in 2014.

I had moved to Shanghai and was trying to grasp how things worked. WeChat seemed to be how everyone communicated, so I downloaded the app.

WeChat was a giant already back then, with almost 500 million monthly active users. I also learned about Taobao, Alibaba’s online store where locals buy anything and everything. Alibaba had also created Alipay, a mobile wallet app enabling effortless payment of ­purchases, which already had 190 ­million users in 2014.

Back then, most ­people in Finland had never heard about WeChat, let alone Alipay.

Four years have passed, and WeChat’s user base has exceeded one billion. The Chinese use the app to do everything from ordering food, paying for shopping, hailing a taxi to making doctor’s appointments and communicating with friends, family, and business contacts.

Meanwhile, companies have replaced many traditional payment and marketing channels with WeChat and other mobile services.

Alipay nowadays has more than 500 ­million users, and mobile payment is booming. Cash is rarely needed in the big cities – and sometimes not even accepted. It’s telling that last July the Central Bank of China recommended that neither individuals nor companies should refuse cash payments.

The Chinese use the app to do everything.

Recently, WeChat and Alipay have been noted in Finland. Even the Finnish tax administration has opened a WeChat account in order to better serve their Chinese customers. Finnair sells flight tickets via WeChat and the City of Helsinki has developed its own WeChat mini-programme for Chinese travellers.

Ordinary Finns may run into Alipay logos when they go shopping, as at least 2,000 Finnish companies accept Alipay payments. Yet, few locals use neither WeChat nor Alipay. Why should we care?

As it happens, the presence of Alipay logos in Finland is a revealing signal. The fuss around WeChat and the likes is probably helping many people realise that China, a country that started reforming its economy at the end of 1970s, is now ahead of us in mobile payments and certain other mobile services.

Not long ago, many Finns didn’t know ­anything about Chinese tech companies. This has changed, and many even recognise Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba.

It’s about time. The world is ­changing. Chinese tech giants are pushing forward the development of artificial intelligence, and the country aims to become the world leader in AI by 2030.

Moreover, the fact that Finnish ­companies and other organisations have started using WeChat and Alipay reveals that the Chinese are more welcome than ever before – as customers, investors, and potential partners.

Photo iStock

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