26 April 2019
Fan Zhiming, president of domestic business at Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group
Fan Zhiming, president of domestic business at Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group

Alipay reengineers e-wallet for offline payments

Alipay, the online payment unit of Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group, will launch an e-wallet service for mobile phone users later this month so account holders can buy goods at vending machines even when the buyers are offline, a top manager said Wednesday.

China’s biggest online payment service provider applied a novel acoustic wave-based technology to transmit signals between users’ mobile phones and readers installed in the vending machines, Fan Zhiming, president of domestic business at the micro-lending firm, said in Hangzhou.

“The new service will enable mobile phone users to pay offline, for example, in the subway, schools, and shopping malls,” Fan said. The technology has already been installed in vending machines at some subway stations in Shanghai and some cinemas in Beijing, Fan said.

The company will launch similar services in the subways of Beijing, Nanjing and Changchun, he said. Alipay’s new code reader can read quick reaction (QR) codes and bar codes, as well as get credit and debit card holders’ information via photos from the mobile phones.

Alipay is also launching apps that will let users perform tasks like checking bank account balances, signing telecommunication contracts, and buying drinks at fast-food shops.

In addition, smartphone users can use an Alipay app to buy movie tickets online and then pick them up by holding their phones over code readers, Fan said.

“We will launch an upgraded version by the end of the year to make it more convenient and safer for users,” he said.

The releases come as Tencent Holdings Ltd. (00700.HK) is poised to monetize its massively popular instant communication tool WeChat, according to some media reports. But Alipay appears unruffled.

“WeChat focuses on transactions of personal information while we are familiar with finance,” Fan said. Alipay plans to diversify into an e-wallet business, with the ultimate enemy coins and notes, he said.

In the meantime, Alipay ended its offline point-of-sale-based business in late August because China UnionPay will roll out stringent rules for third-party bank card payment services, the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing an announcement on Alipay’s microblog. The decision will not influence the operation of its partner merchants, the report said.

UnionPay’s new rules are expected to stipulate that all offline UnionPay card transactions conducted by non-financial institutions should be through the UnionPay system by July next year, which means that UnionPay will take a bigger bite of the commission charges generated by the transactions, the report said.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


Ayishah Ma is a financial reporter on Greater China issues.

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