Alipay pursues Chinese tourists in hard-to-crack Japanese market
Alipay is chasing Chinese tourists to Japan, where it’s signing up a growing number of retailers and eyeing the long-term potential of the nation’s $45 billion digital payments market.
The volume of payments processed on Alipay in the country swelled about eight times in the 12 months to September, said Genki Oka, Japan chief executive officer of Ant Financial, which operates the platform. Its network of vendors has climbed to about 38,000 as of November from 20,000 in February, closing in on a target of doubling within a year, Oka said in an interview.
An affiliate of billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Ant Financial entered Japan in 2015 to cater to Chinese visitors who are increasingly shopping with their mobile phones instead of cash. That has stirred worries among the nation’s banks that Alipay may eventually offer its services to local consumers as well, challenging their own efforts to develop domestic payment platforms.
“There’s no way we wouldn’t consider the Japanese market” at some point, said Oka, while stressing that he’s not yet ready to do that. He said the company would need to find the right partner and examine how to serve consumers in a country that has its own digital settlement services -- as well as a lingering preference for cash.
For now, Alipay is working with retailers in popular tourist spots such as the Ameya Yokocho shopping street in Tokyo’s Ueno district.
Chinese made up the largest group among an unprecedented 24 million foreigners who visited Japan in the first 10 months of 2017.
Alipay’s Japan network ranges from high-end department stores to mom-and-pop shops and restaurants.
“Any attempt by Alibaba to dominate in the Japanese market is a major threat,” Daisuke Yamada, Mizuho’s chief digital technology officer, said in a speech in September. “It’s like a ‘black ship’ invasion for us in the banking industry.”
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