At the end of 2022, the population of the People’s Republic of China, counted over 1.4 billion inhabitants, which represents almost 20% of the world population. A huge number which translates to a great potential in regard to payments, also considering the large number of Chinese communities around the world.
According to the report published in June 2022 by CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center: the administrative agency responsible for Internet affairs under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China), China had about 1,050 million internet users¹ and of these over 80% buy online (about 840 million people).²
The digitisation of the Chinese population has also strongly involved physical payments, by the first half of 2022 China could count 904 million mobile payment users³ who purchased from digital payment platforms not only in the domestic market but around the rest of the world.
What’s the weight of digital payments on global market volumes? According to data released by Statista, the total value of transactions in the digital payments segment in 2022 comes close to 3.5 billion USD and will reach 5.2 billion in 2027, with an annual increase (CAGR) of 8.25%. In particular, digital commerce will reach almost 2 billion dollars by the end of the year, confirming China as the country with the highest volume of transactions globally.⁴
The volume growth of the People’s Republic of China payments is driven by in-store purchases. To confirm this trend, we can analyze the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User), noticing an increase in average revenue both online and in store, with a slight slowdown for the Ecommerce channel.
In 2019 the online ARPU continued to grow, with a slight decline each year until 2020, when the pandemic caused a surge. According to the most recent available data, from 2021 growth will slow down until at least the year 2025. Today the ARPU of online sales is around 1,100 dollars, in 2024 it will reach around 1,250 dollars remaining stable until the following year.⁵
Those numbers are likely to grow further if compared to demographic developments in China. 73% of Chinese people are between 18 and 44 years of age, this group is most likely to use digital tools in general. Also, it is necessary to consider that the youngest range, between 18 and 34 years, corresponds to 48% of the population. These data seem to confirm a penetration of digital payment methods destined to increase in the coming years.
The digital payments market in China is a fragmented reality, as in the rest of the world. The most used platforms are Chinese companies and a large part of their revenues occur mainly with Alipay and WeChat Pay that, according to the Statista Global Consumer Survey of July 2022, have been used at least once in the previous 12 months, respectively from 93% and 86% of interviewees.⁶
Below are the payment platforms most used by the Chinese community:
Alipay is an online payment platform launched in 2004 in China by the Alibaba Group, the international giant of Ecommerce, which has also integrated physical store payments for some time now. The platform is similar to other digital wallets, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, in fact it requires the association to one or more cards in order to pay.
Alipay today has 1.3 billion users worldwide⁷ that profit from over 100 services included in the app, such as instant credit, installment payments and cash back. Alipay and the entire Alibaba group are investing in integrations between online and offline, offering new retail solutions, available on the different platforms owned by Alibaba (Alipay, Tmall-Taobao, Fliggy, Weibo), with the aim to facilitate the sale of long distance products or through click&collect.
WeChat Pay is the digital wallet introduced by WeChat, the Chinese messaging app born in 2011 and owned by the giant Tencent (a company that operates in different sectors, from entertainment to smartphones) that today can count on over 1.3 billion⁸ users. Very similar to other digital wallets available on the market, the WeChat ecosystem also offers its users different services, including a marketplace accessible by other companies that can develop specific apps.
From 2018 WeChat Pay is also available in Italy and its user experience is similar to the competitor Alipay. Moreover, in this case payments are finalized via a QR code, by the customer or the merchant depending on the type of in-store integration.
China UnionPay, also simply called UnionPay, falls within the top 3 of the most used payments in China and among the Chinese community in the world. Unlike Alipay and WeChat Pay, however, it is not a digital wallet. China UnionPay is in fact the only issuer authorised to process card payments in the People’s Republic of China.
Until the end of 2021, UnionPay has managed more and more transactions⁹: 93% of card payments in China and 45% worldwide. In recent years UPI accelerated its presence in multiple markets, expanding its global acceptance network. According to their data, today more than 190 million cards have been issued in over 70 countries, and 13 million new cards have been issued in 2022.
These platforms are widely used by the entire Chinese population globally. Therefore, they are considered to be useful tools also outside the Chinese market. Merchants that work in the tourism business should not underestimate the potential of the Chinese communities present throughout their national territory.
The cost of these tools may depend on the operator and the type of integration of the store, which may include the installation and integration of QR code readers in order to finalise payments, in the case of Alipay and WeChat Pay. Leaving aside fixed costs, we need to consider the application of fees, in form of a percentage on transactions or fixed costs.
Timing can be an important factor when choosing a payment platform. It’s important to consider any crediting times, which may vary compared to traditional methods, and involve longer timeframes to the availability of revenues.
If you are interested in learning more about alternative payments and their benefits for Ecommerce and other businesses, you can download our whitepaper on international and local alternative payments for free.
Number of Internet Users in China | Statista, 2022.
China: penetration rate of online shopping | Statista, 2022.
Number of online payment users in China | Statista, 2022.
Digital Payments in China | Statista, 2022.
Ecommerce in China | Statista, 2022.
China's Most Popular Digital Payment Services | Statista, 2022.
Alipay Statistics | EnterpriseAppsToday, 2022.
Number of monthly active WeChat accounts | Statista, 2022.
Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts to 2025 | RBR Research.