Apps aiding foreigners with internet shopping
Dee Prichard has lived in China for four years and started shopping with WeChat Wallet, an online payment service, about 12 months ago.
“It makes it easier for me to use JD.com,” she said, referring to the popular online shopping site. “Before, when I tried to use JD.com, I had to look for products that allowed me to pay on delivery. But now, because I have the online payment, I can buy anything.”
Prichard, an English and business teacher from the US, shops online about three times a week. Except for clothes, she buys everything online.
“Honestly, before I go shopping, I look online first. If I can find it online, I buy it,” she said.
At first, she used online payment only when shopping online, but later she discovered that it could be used for many things in the real world.
“At a local vendor where I buy beef, it was kind of a surprise to me when she said she also accepts mobile payment,” Prichard said, adding that she’s become accustomed to asking at every store whether they accept WeChat Wallet.
The growth in online payment has also transformed the life of Czech businessman Jan Hebnar.
“I transfer money to my friends online, pay for dinners, lunches, and so on, whenever it’s possible,” he said. “I’m getting into the habit of not carrying much money in my pocket anymore.”
Hebnar is a managing partner of CEE Investment and Trade, a company that imports food products from Central European and sells them to Chinese consumers on the internet. He said he started to use online payment in 2012 after opening his first shop on Taobao, an online marketplace operated by Alibaba Group.
“Online payment smoothes e-commerce a lot,” he said, adding that Taobao also forward payment immediately to a vendor’s account, whereas websites such as JD.com or Amazon hold on to the money for a period of time.
Compared with China, he added, online payment is used much less in his native Czech Republic.
“It’s because the penetration of credit and debit cards is much higher than in China, so the adoption of this new technology is slower,” Hebnar said. “In China, online payments basically replaced debit cards before they were made available to the majority of Chinese.”
According to Analysys, a Beijing internet consultancy, WeChat Wallet has 300 million monthly active users and is available at more than 300,000 retailers in China, while Alipay has 200 million monthly active users and works with about 1 million retailers.
For foreigners, however, the biggest problem with online payment apps is the language barrier.
Prichard said one of her colleagues helped to set up her WeChat Wallet, but she found it difficult to get any English instructions for Alipay.
“If a foreigner needs to ask for help so many times, it’s a little embarrassing,” she said. “If I could use Alipay, I’d use Taobao more.”
The problem is also true with other Chinese apps. “I’ve downloaded several apps, but there is no way to change languages,” Prichard said. “I have many foreign friends who have all asked the same questions — does anybody know how to use this app?”