According to University of Toronto’s campus newspaper The Varsity, various locations on the University of Toronto campus are beginning to accept payments through two China-based payment tools, WeChat Pay and AliPay. Further citing reports from The Varsity, purchases on university’s St. George, Mississauga, Scarborough campus, and the Varsity Sports store are now available for WeChat and AliPay customers.
In addition to the traditional payment methods such as cash and debit/credit cards, the University of Toronto is beginning to adopt additional means to better serve the student community. For WeChat and AliPay, the two popular payment tools are completing a solid achievement to enter the Canadian market.
A Payment Method the Westerners Might Never Understand
It might leave those who are used to credit cards confused: Why would anyone use another troublesome method to pay? Indeed, either WeChat or AliPay requires users to scan or display a QR code, enter the amount needed to pay, and enter their payment password. It not only requires the users having a smart device with Internet connection, but also requires users to have their bank cards linked to an app installed in their cell or even put a sum into the app upfront. Unlike credit cards that require nothing but a payment password or cardholder’s signature, WeChat and AliPay seem to be a complicated system to fit into North America.
The QR code system was invented in 1994 by a Japanese company named Denso Wave to track vehicles during manufacturing. And some 20 years later, QR code completely changed the daily life of many who live in China. The code designed for quality controls are now used for broader means, from directing to a given webpage to online transactions. Moreover, QR code became an essential part in establishing the cash-free society in modern-day China.
The drawbacks of QR code payments are evident: Either WeChat or AliPay rely heavily on smart devices and Internet connection. WeChat and AliPay are serving more like debit cards connected to smartphone devices. It is hard to argue that QR code payments are anyhow superior to credit cards and the chip cards to swipe at or insert into the POS machines.
The prevalence of WeChat and AliPay in China utilizes the lack of credit cards and the lack of online banking services in the previous decade. Together with the rise of e-commerce and online shopping, more and more users in China are beginning to switch into the QR code payment methods. Comparing with the numerous credit card scams, WeChat and AliPay seem to be the safer ways to conduct payment transactions in China: Tencent and Alibaba, the two technology giants in the country, are safeguarding the financial security of regular Chinese consumers via their payment tools.
If the banking system in China were to be more up-to-date in the past decade, or if more people in China own credit cards, WeChat and AliPay may not achieve what they have accomplished today. However, the lack of actions from traditional banks and financial institutions not only started a significant change in how Chinese people pay for their consumption, but also pushed this new way of consumption to other countries in the world.
It is more of a Culture
Some ecstatic supporters of QR payment methods argue that the new rising WeChat and AliPay will eventually lead the world into a new payment method. And more users from the developed countries will begin to use this ‘magical’ way to pay for their consumptions.
Yet the current overseas adventures of WeChat and AliPay remain in the ‘comfort-zone’. Despite expanding to many stores in Southeast Asia and North America, WeChat and AliPay are still a ‘Chinese thing’. Stores that accept WeChat and AliPay are more likely to be linked to Chinese customers or owned by Chinese investors.
WeChat and AliPay are acting more like cultural preferences rather than technological superiorities. Just as many Chinese immigrants in North America enjoys Chinese herbs, massages, and traditional Chinese foods, these exotic services are far away from replacing clinical medicine, physio-therapy, and MacDonald. As the statement made by University of Toronto Press Vice President Lotta Lindblom suggests, the adoption of WeChat and AliPay systems is to better serve the Chinese consumers, whose number is rapidly increasing in past decade in Toronto and on the University of Toronto campuses.
An analogy can perfectly explain the use of WeChat in developed countries: In the age of global explorations, European settlers brought the sport of football to countries around the world. Comparing to hunting, shooting, or any other sport, football is nothing superior. It is more of a cultural celebration accepted by people around the world. Football did not win the world’s attention by its advanced techniques, but by the commonalities people can find among each other.
Payment tools such as WeChat and AliPay are traveling among Chinese immigrants to enter various countries around the world. However, their potentials and acceptance are yet to be decided by the local population in the respective countries that they enter. To become a globally accepted payment tool, these two platforms still have a long way to go.