WeChat Pay—the Chinese digital wallet with over 800 million active users—is officially coming to the U.S. market, but not for American customers.
Starting Tuesday, Chinese tourists can shop easily at U.S. retailers with their phones, without touching a dollar bill or reaching for a credit card. This has big implications for retailers, especially for brands that rely heavily on Chinese tourists’ spending.
In partnership with Swych, a digital gifting platform, and Travelex, a cross-border financial-services company, WeChat is offering a service called Travelex Pay. It will let people from mainland China pay within their WeChat app seamlessly while shopping in the U.S.
Here’s how it works: When checking out at participating retailers, travelers can use money in their WeChat Pay account—denominated in yuan—to instantly generate a digital gift card for the correct amount in dollars. They use that card for their purchase.
Swych has more than 200 retail partners in the U.S., making it possible for WeChat Pay users to shop with their phones at luxury brands, department stores, big-box outlets, restaurants, electronics shops ,and more. Adidas, Hollister, Bloomingdales, Macy’s , and Best Buy are some of the participating brands.
Currently, Chinese tourists face challenges shopping overseas: Carrying large amounts of dollars in cash is inconvenient and risky, while using Chinese-issued credit cards triggers fees for foreign transactions. The ability to pay smoothly with their phones, as they do at home, will likely further boost travelers’ purchasing power and benefit U.S. retailers.
“Travelex Pay with WeChat addresses these challenges and more. It allows retailers to give Chinese consumers a familiar shopping experience in the U.S. with all the convenience and security they expect from WeChat,” said James Hewitt, Travelex’s CEO for the U.S.
Mobile payments are common in China, largely because credit cards are used there less often, said Harpreet Chawla, vice president of digital products and innovation at Swych. By contrast, mobile payments in the U.S. must compete with credit cards, which are accepted by most merchants and used by the majority of the population already.
WeChat Pay has about 800 million active monthly users and most of them are Chinese nationals, according to the Chinese tech company Tencent, which owns WeChat. Apple doesn’t reveal such numbers for Apple Pay, its equivalent service. Recent research from the venture-capital firm Loup Ventures estimates that Apple Pay now has more than 252 million users, but only 15% of them, or 38 million, are in the U.S. That’s less than 5% of WeChat Pay’s Chinese user base.
And more of those mobile-paying Chinese consumers are coming to the U.S., scouting for products that cost more at home, or are unavailable there. In 2016, about 3 million tourists visited the U.S. from mainland China, spending $33 billion, up 15% and 9% respectively from the previous year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. (Source: Barrons)