Used E Payment and There’s No Turning Back

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I am referring to my recent holiday in Shanghai, where my wife and I experienced an almost full convenience of e payment and related services, thanks to the topping up of our WeChat wallet.

We circumvented the requirement of linking WeChat pay to a China bank account, by having my brother-in-law transferring CNY into our WeChat wallet, which we would return him SGD into his Spore bank account. We then went around our daily activities in Shanghai using WeChat pay and Cryptocurrency market.

Since we were already using WeChat pay to keep in touch, it follows that we used WeChat pay instead of Alipay, the effective duopoly of e payment that can be found in all sorts of retail points and daily services: cafe/bubble tea, supermarkets, restaurants, taxi payment, topping up MRT card, tourist attraction tickets, road side snack stalls etc. The standard question at end of every transaction was ‘你扫我还是我扫你?’ ie You scan my code or I scan yours? (WeChat can process payment either by scanning merchant’s QR code or letting them scan your WeChat pay QR code).

As WeChat is also a super app that is linked to many other functions, we used it to buy groceries and order food online, within the WeChat interface without tapping on another app.

There was one dinner when we used the Mei Tuan app to search for recommended meals, placed our order and have them delivered to our Airbnb unit. It took less than 30 mins. Halfway into the meal, we were thinking about desserts, and went through the same process again. And desserts were delivered before we even finished the meal.

My brother-in-law commented that he can actually stay at home for a week without stepping out, since all he needs can be ordered, and delivered, even when he has craving for an ice cream. I think this is quite possible.

It was also increasingly common for cafes to stop taking orders over the counter physically. One can access their website, official account on WeChat, place your order on way to the cafe. You can then decide to drink at the outlet, or continue on with your journey.

On my suggestion, we visited a Luckin Cafe having read about this start-up intention to challenge Starbucks as the market leader in China domestic market. The outlet was manned by two staff and there were no customers. On the counter were several drinks packed in their nice artsy paper bags waiting to be collected. As we sat there and had our coffee, customers and delivery man from E Le Me, MeiTuan, Kou Bei were constantly streaming in to collect their drinks. There were minimal interaction with customers and the two staff were busy making drinks, checking orders on their POS terminal, packing and passing them over all the time.

Maximum efficiency. Fast moving orders. Less training required for customer service and etiquette. Staff can focus on making drinks and getting them delivered/collected.

It was truly an eye opener experience for me, convenient, seamless and fuss-free. So much so that I consciously look for e payment/QR code labels after I am back in Singapore, to use my PayLah e wallet.

However, to my disappointment, e payment acceptance level is nowhere near that of China. The coffee shops across the road have a few stalls that accept Grab Pay. There were many with e payment notice but the QR code was covered, with the stall owner saying that its not ready yet. Even at the newly built hawker centre nearby, many stalls were not accepting e payment yet despite a big banner saying that the centre is equipped with SG QR code.

With so many e wallets available here, the e payment usage here is fragmented between the different players. Launch of SG QR code is definitely the right step as it allows payment across different e wallets by scanning one common QR code. But the pace of adoption is really slow and not sure of the cost for merchants which could be a hindrance to large scale take-up.

I would be looking forward to the day when e payment is used as widely as it is in China. Hope it would not be too far away.

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