In our last post we talked about how to take digital payments in China. For consumers, it really has never been so easy. But what’s it like for you, as a business owner, to take payments? The climate in online (and retail) shopping is very different in China to the rest of the world, so we’ve broken down the main payment systems you need to know about in order to do business in the Middle Kingdom – as well as how to get them easily onto your site.
The Payment Ecosystem In China
Because China’s electronic payment systems emerged right alongside the boom of mobile phone creation, card-based payments (such as regular credit cards) never really took off. For that reason, Paypal and credit cards are generally used by a very small minority of Chinese people.
China Has The Largest Credit Card Network In The World
Although China’s state-backed credit and debit card provider, UnionPay, now controls the largest card network in the world (we’re talking 7 billion UnionPay cards compared to 5.6 billion for MasterCard and Visa, combined), the average daily Chinese consumer is much more likely to be using a mobile-based, third-party payment system.
The Big Third Party Payment Systems In China
And, just in case you haven’t heard the rumblings of their names before, those payment giants are WeChat Pay and Alipay, owned by China’s tech companies Tencent and Alibaba, respectively. Together, these two payment systems control over 90% of the mobile payment market.
So how should your company accept money from 1.4 billion people?
Because WeChat Pay and Alipay are by far the most ubiquitous means of payment, to cater to a Chinese market, your company needs to accept one (or preferably, both) of these payments. That means, on your website or in your physical store, you need to have one of those handy little QR codes that are seen everywhere in China – from local convenience stores to high-end restaurants, and, no kidding, fruit sellers on the street. But which option is best?
China’s Different Payment Platforms
First things first, you need to register with either WeChat Pay or Alipay (or both) in order to receive payments from consumers in China. While the process of registering for either account is relatively similar, as is the way payments are settled, there are some differences for businesses using either system.
Businesses can register with Alipay and set up cross-border online payments or in-store payments. Customers can make purchases on a website through their Alipay account in Chinese RMB and the payment will be settled in the merchant’s account in a chosen currency. Not only is linking foreign websites to Alipay necessary to enter the Chinese e-commerce market, if merchants have a physical store outside of China with access to Alipay payments, they may also attract sales from many more Chinese tourists.
Unlike Alipay, WeChat offers businesses the chance to create mini-programs in the app. These are effectively in-app stores for users to buy products. For online vendors, WeChat offers businesses the ability to accept WeChat Pay, but only in Mainland China, Hong Kong and South Africa in 2019. Similarly to Alipay, customers can pay in Chinese RMB, and the amount is then settled in the vendor’s account in their currency of choice.
How To Take Payments On Wechat
- Inside WeChat shops
- By QR Code at retail outlets
- Wechat is basically a swipe, similar to Apple pay in person – see our Wechat series for an in-depth view of everything Wechat.
As mentioned before, UnionPay is the world’s largest card networks, and anyone that has a bank account in China will have a UnionPay credit or debit card. Therefore, another easy way to tap into the Chinese market is to accept UnionPay on your website, app, or in a store, allowing you access to virtually all Chinese consumers with a debit or credit card.
What if I don’t bother with Chinese payment systems?
Not having one of the main Chinese payment systems leaves your company closed off to the second-largest economy in the world. Sure, there are a very small number of Chinese consumers that have credit cards issued outside of China (or have dual systems in place with UnionPay and another bank), but for the vast majority of consumers, the easiest way to attract them to your business is by making payment as simple as possible: and that means accepting mobile payments.
Chinese Payments At Point Of Sale Outside China
For instance, the omnipresent 7/11 chain store in Thailand – China’s biggest foreign travel destination – now takes both Alipay and WeChat Pay. Where do you think Chinese tourists are buying snacks from in Thailand, the local chain with no Alipay/Wechat or 7/11? Other switched-on private companies, such as restaurants and trip organisers, are also embracing these payment systems, allowing Chinese tourists to make payments easily. If you were travelling overseas, would you book with the company that accepted your payment or would you go to the inconvenience of making an expensive withdrawal from an ATM?
China’s Most Obvious Payment System For Overseas Companies: Alipay
Not having Alipay is like not having Visa or Mastercard in the west. Once you have your Alipay merchant account set up, customers can come to your site, choose what they like, scan a code: just like that, they’ve now purchased something from you. Alipay allows for a larger consumer base as well. People without Chinese bank accounts can link other cards to their Alipay, and, with more than 300 merchants using Alipay around the world, it is much more recognisable as an international payment system than, say, WeChat Pay (in 2019, WeChat Pay is only available in a few countries).
How Can I Get Alipay On My Site?
To make integration easy for non-Chinese businesses, companies have begun to offer third-party payment gateways for the different platforms. WooCommerce, for instance, is an e-commerce plugin designed specifically for WordPress. Adding this plugin to your site allows you to accept a variety of payments from different systems, including PayPal, credit and debit cards, Stripe, and, of course, AliPay. The only problem with the WooCommerce plugin is that it only remits money once you pass a $5,000 threshold.
Any Other Options?
Other options for payment gateways include Stripe, BlueSnap, and Nihao Pay. While these options may take more time to set up (and cost more, as they are not just WordPress plugins), they do remit payments more quickly, regardless of the amount paid. The most recent custom coded system we used for a foreign client using Stripe and Alipay, remits a weeks worth of payments after around 9 days. The outlay on this setup significantly larger, but in exchange, you are dealing directly with the payment processors, rather than a third party. This means that your costs are much higher in the beginning, but you are much more plugged in, when it comes to things such as refunds. If you are familiar with any form of payment processor, then you’ll know that dealing with refunds and complaints well is crucial to your relationship. Their industry is based on trust and reliability for their customers.
Our Main Recommendation
If you are looking to get a website up and running in China as your first step, then the Woocommerce Alipay cross-border plug-in is easily your best entry point. We’ve got years of experience building these sites on WordPress for specific service to China based customers using hong Kong based servers ( this will tell you all about the best servers).
How Can I Find Out More?
Your first port of call is the list of titles we’ve recommended below that explain in more detail some of the payment systems and implementation (especially WeChat).
If you are still in need of more information after that, then please drop us an e-mail and we’ll write you a post to explain it all!
- Your Quick Guide to The Wechat Shop
- How Can I Sell On Wechat?
- Or head to our Wechat page to see how we can help you get set up and selling in China today