Alipay, the mobile payment app owned by billionaire Jack Ma, is stepping up its competition with WeChat to get more of its 900 million users to tap expanded services in everything from real estate purchases to restaurant and cinema bookings.
Alipay is targeting 40 million merchant and services providers to use its mini programs — a lite app that sits on top of its interface and provides quick access to an array of services. The company has been experimenting with the initiative for three years and now has about 1.7 million such programmes.
The move escalates the competition between Alipay and WeChat, the super app owned by Asia’s second largest company and Jack Ma’s rival billionaire Pony Ma. After seeing a surge in online demand during the COVID-19 virus outbreak, Alipay introduced incentives to encourage developers to create mini programmes that help users cope with the impact.
“We’ve seen a spike in demand for online services,” He Yongming, vice president of Alipay’s open ecosystem business. “This trend will only grow stronger even after the virus outbreak ends.”
Ant Financial, the company that owns Alipay, estimates there are as many as 100 million small merchants in China. The goal is to drive these merchants to the mini programmes, also enabling them to manage customer data, conduct promotions and marketing analysis.
It has shown initial success in helping some companies weather the economic impact of the virus shutdown in China. Meicai, a $7 billion startup that connects farmers with restaurants, used the mini programme to instead link directly with retail customers. It saw more than 800,000 new users from across 80 cities in China order groceries in a week, according to a joint statement.
A property service provider began offering real estate auctions via the mini programme, selling 110 million yuan ($16 million) in property in total over three days, according to Ant. It used Alipay’s identity verification system, a live-stream of the auction in real-time and a private blockchain that incorporated the local notary agency. After Ant rolled out its COVID-19 coping incentives, more than 1,200 developers created 181 new mini programmes on Alipay focusing on grocery deliveries, legal and medical advice, it said on Tuesday.