23 January 2019
Jack Ma is spotted in a Causeway Bay convenience store using his Alipay to buy a copy of the South China Morning Post. Photo: Bloomberg/Internet
Jack Ma is spotted in a Causeway Bay convenience store using his Alipay to buy a copy of the South China Morning Post. Photo: Bloomberg/Internet

Jack Ma uses his Alipay to buy copy of own newspaper

Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma was spotted in a Causeway Bay convenience store buying a copy of the South China Morning Post, which he owns.

One wonders why a photo of such a candid moment would go viral on social media, but of course the subject is one of the world’s richest men, and it’s not every day that we see him wearing a T-shirt, looking like an ordinary mortal, and doing an ordinary transaction in a nondescript establishment for the hoi polloi. 

Even Alipay shared the picture on its official weibo, which is understandable because he used Alipay, which he also owns, for the transaction. It would have been a more interesting picture if Ma was caught paying with a WeChat Pay, which is owned by rival Tencent, or buying an Apple Daily.

Four months ago, the internet guru was seen drinking with pals in a Chongqing bar, and what surprised many who saw the photo was that he was paying with a credit card.

You see, credit card is not the preferred method of payment in the mainland, and – more importantly – the chairman of Alipay, arguably the country’s largest unlisted company with highest market valuation, was not using his own product.

The Chongqing post fueled a lot of online discussions so much so that Alipay’s official Weibo had to put up a post saying that everyone, including Alipay staff, chooses their own method of payment, and that that should be respected.

Four months later, another unsourced photo surfaces, this time showing the e-commerce tycoon buying a copy of his own newspaper and using his own payment platform to pay for it, and the picture still set social media on fire. 

OK, there’s nothing unusual about the picture: everything is ordinary. But that’s exactly what makes it unusual: Jack Ma is not supposed to be doing the ordinary.

He was in town because he just received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hong Kong last Friday. He chose the SCMP because he acquired the outfit two years ago and so he was expected to patronize his own newspaper. He was also expected to use AlipayHK, the payment gateway his Ant Financial launched with CK Hutchison last year.

But the picture raised a few nagging questions: How come Jack Ma had to come down from his hotel suite himself to snap up a copy of the newspaper? Where were all his aides? Besides, didn’t the hotel where he was staying subscribing to the SCMP for distribution to its guests?

Oh well. Perhaps it was just a spur of the moment thing. 

What he should worry about, though, is if he was still able to get a copy of his beloved newspaper by mid-morning or in the afternoon, when copies should have been sold out in the early morning hours.

That should make Jack Ma realize that not too many people are buying newspapers these days. The internet of which he is so much a part, and from which he built his business empire, is eroding the readership and therefore the viability of one of his valued enterprises.

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EJ Insight writer

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