The remarkable influence of one country on payment tech

The remarkable influence of one country on payment tech

In recent years, one country has emerged as the world’s leader in payment innovation: China. “China is recognized as the most advanced market for mobile payments in the world, thanks to WeChat and Alipay,” says Paul Haswell, a senior partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons.

The country’s influence is so significant that its preferred payment technologies are expanding quickly into the rest of the world. This reverses the usual pattern, where major conglomerates from more developed nations dominate through sheer force of scale.

The battle for supremacy in payments continues unabated, where popular U.S. payment apps make room for their Chinese counterparts. Services like WeChat Pay and AliPay are taking their place alongside major global players like Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.

When it comes to payments, China is innovating its way to the head of the pack.

China rising

Two factors influence the worldwide dissemination of Chinese payment trends: rising domestic incomes and increased outbound travel. Both are intertwined, as rising incomes lead to more travel.

Locally, Chinese consumers have more buying power with a high penetration of mobile phones. Mobile subscriptions recently reached 1.5 billion, making China the biggest market for mobile.

Chinese mobile subscribers graph
Data from Statista ( showing steady growth in mobile subscriptions.

The prevalence of mobile phones encouraged the rapid adoption of the easy-to-use QR code, which quickly became the way to pay: $5.5 trillion was processed via QR codes in 2016. Throughout China, people pay each other, as well as for services and goods, with a simple scan of a QR code. From street musicians to taxi drivers, anyone can be a merchant with only a piece of paper.

“By 2021, 79.3% of smartphone users in China will be tapping, scanning and swiping at the POS,” per eMarketer forecasting analyst Shelleen Shum. “By comparison, the US will have 23% of smartphone users doing so, and in Germany, it will be 15%.”

Moreover, since 92% of people in China’s biggest cities prefer Alipay or WeChat as their primary payment method, the expectation is that their preferred payment methods will be available wherever they travel – or wherever they purchase goods online. This expectation influences global business calculus when looking to attract and retain consumers.

As Chinese travelers increasingly look beyond domestic borders for travel, they bring these behaviors with them. This trend started in 2012, when China became the world’s top tourism spender. China’s large population means that the country will likely maintain pole position indefinitely.

Top global tourism spenders graph
Outbound tourism spreads Chinese consumer expectations of easy mobile pay throughout the world according to the 2017 UNWTO World Tourism Barometer (

Case study: Finland

The country of Finland is an ideal case study, highlighting how a deep understanding of its customers’ preferred payment methods can drive business outcomes. In 2017, Finland became the first “all-Alipay” destination in the world, providing cashless payments throughout the country to AliPay’s 520 million users. The average Chinese visitor spends €1,200 per visit, which is a compelling reason for making it easier for travelers to spend.

To showcase the ease-of-use across Finland, Alipay brought eight tourists to experience the integration. Zoe Cai was one of them:

“At first, we were surprised when so many merchants accepted Alipay, but after this experience, we may be surprised if a merchant doesn’t accept Alipay when we travel next time,” Cai told Alizila.

The results speak for themselves: Chinese visits jumped 64% in 2017. The increase contributed to a growth of 22% in tourism income from Asia. Per Chinese travel platform, Finland was also the number-one trending destination for winter travel during the 2017-2018 season.

Change in average travel stay Finland 2018 vs. 2017 graph
Data from Visit Finland showing the percentage change in overnight stays in April 2018 vs. April 2017.

The country even committed to offering services to Chinese businesses and travelers via WeChat messaging, showing just how a focus on your target customer delivers results.

Helsinki infographic for Chinese tourists
Helsinki led the way with a mini-program that provides information on popular Chinese messaging app WeChat.


In reviewing Alipay’s efforts in Finland, travel industry trade publication Jing Travel notes that Alipay will “get one step closer to dominating Chinese mobile payments both at home and abroad… if it can convince destinations around the world that the Finnish model of widespread Alipay adoption helps attract more Chinese travelers.”

The same goes for any product or service sold to a global consumer base: ease-of-payment is a critical piece of any transaction. If it’s difficult to pay, it’s easy to move on to the next merchant.

Here are some things to consider when choosing payment types to offer a global customer base:

  1. Look at your global payment volume. Which countries are in the top five? These are the payment preferences to prioritize.
  2. Ask your customers. Add a question to a post-transaction survey to find out if a preferred payment method was missing.
  3. Choose your partners wisely. Rather than waste development resources, choose a partner that can allow you to offer global payment options with little to no development work.

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