|An advertising billboard for Alipay is seen in Beijing. (Li Yunfeng / for China Daily)|
Alipay, the country’s largest third-party payments company, will waive newly introduced commissions for transactions conducted via mobile platforms, in a bid to get more of its users on its mobile application.
Alipay, a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, will start levying a fee of 0.1 percent of the total value of transactions, according to a recent company announcement.
That translates into commission fees starting at 0.5 yuan (8 cents) per transaction and up to a maximum fee of 10 yuan. Previously, transactions with a value below 10,000 yuan were exempted from such fees.
However, commissions will be waived for credit card payments, inter-bank transactions and payments of utility bills, if those transactions are conducted via mobile devices.
“We will maintain free-of-charge services if users choose to go with Alipay’s mobile app,” Alipay said.
The move, along with a series of other recent endeavors, underscores the need for Alibaba to stay agile in the mobile e-commerce age, as some of its rivals on the mobile front are eroding its huge client base.
The company has recently launched Alipay Wallet, a mobile version of Alipay, as a standalone brand under the newly established Zhejiang Alibaba E-Commerce Co Ltd, which handles the financial businesses under the Alibaba empire.
It’s also trying to get online merchants selling their products on Taobao.com marketplaces to switch from their desktop PCs to mobile phones, by investing 500 million yuan to develop a mobile services platform and distribute smartphones to lure electronic retailers, Alibaba said on its website.
In another push to expand its user base, in September, Alibaba launched Laiwang — a mobile chat app similar to Tencent Holding Ltd’s WeChat — which gained traction quickly and gave it a boost on the mobile Internet sector.
The number of Laiwang’s registered users has surpassed the 10-million mark, Jack Ma, the chairman of Alibaba, said in a briefing in November, adding that the company is targeting an increase to 100 million by the middle of next year.
The move is critical to “funnel young and tech-savvy users to Alibaba’s mobile ecosystem”, which will serve as the access point for e-commerce services and to a stable stream of revenue, said Alibaba’s Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Lu at the same event.
The company has also launched Yuebao, which was co-developed by Alipay and Tianhong Asset Management Co Ltd, an online money-market fund that promises higher returns than similar products. About 16 million users invested 130 billion yuan by October, making it the country’s largest public fund, said Fan Zhiming, president of Alibaba’s small and micro financial services unit.
The company’s mobile push has already started to pay dividends, as is evident from the soaring growth of mobile e-commerce transactions during the Nov 11 online shopping festival. About 21 percent of the total number of transactions recorded during the 24-hour period was completed through mobile devices, up from just 5 percent last year.
However, it’s an “open secret” in the industry that Alibaba has essentially missed an earlier target of 8.8 billion yuan for mobile transactions, said Zheng Liang, director of the e-commerce division at research firm Nielsen in China.
Alibaba is struggling to translate the success it had with users of desktop PCs to the mobile arena, with active access points significantly lagging behind Tencent’s WeChat, Zheng said.
The WeChat app added payment functions in September and it enables smooth transactions by linking users directly with banks without the need for an intermediary such as Alipay.
“The mobile phone payment service on WeChat marks a key step on Tencent’s path to develop e-commerce services. And it provides a momentum that is reshaping the whole industry, making us believe that future payments will happen on mobile devices in a different way,” said Yi Fanghan, an independent Internet industry analyst and blogger.
Meanwhile, observers pointed out that some users said that they might stop using Alipay after the new fees are introduced.
“My mother always puts money on a regular basis in my Alipay account because it’s convenient and it costs nothing. I’m not sure she will continue to do so after the service starts charging fees, especially since she doesn’t know how to use a smartphone,” said Guan Xin, a student in Shanghai who is originally from Shandong province.
Alipay still dominates the Chinese Internet payment market. According to a report released by consultancy Analysys International, Alipay had a 46.3 percent share of the online payment market in the first quarter of 2013, followed by Tencent’s Tenpay, which had 20.3 email@example.com
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