WeChat Pay takes on Alipay in train ticket mobile payments

The turf war between China’s two biggest mobile payments providers has moved to a new frontier: trains.

From November, passengers will be able to buy their train tickets using Tencent’s WeChat Pay on the official booking website, 12306.cn and its mobile app, according to China Railway, the national operator.

The move breaks the four-year dominance of Alipay over mobile payments in China’s multibillion-dollar train ticket booking market. Alipay is owned by Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post.

Official data shows the country’s railways carried 2.814 billion passengers in 2016, up 11 per cent from the previous year.

Alipay has been accepted on China’s main train ticket sales website since 2013. Although many of the nation’s major banks also offer mobile payment services for train tickets, the vast majority of passengers favour Alipay.

China Railway said the addition of WeChat Pay will “further diversify payment methods for train ticket purchases.”

WeChat Pay is embedded in China’s dominant messaging app, WeChat, which boasts almost a billion users.

“China’s [retail] platforms and companies will be more flexible when it comes to payments in the future and the diversified payment methods will help them to strengthen cash flow,” said Zhao Ziming, a senior analyst at Pintu Tank in Beijing. “And you will see less and less areas monopolised by WeChat Pay or Alipay. The two payment tools, after all, both have millions of users.”

In late September, Alipay broke the monopoly of WeChat Pay in Starbucks, the popular coffee chain. All 2,800 of the coffee giant’s Chinese outlets now accept Alipay, after 10 months of only enabling WeChat Pay.

China is the world leader in mobile payments, with the market reaching 18.8 trillion yuan in the first quarter of this year, according to data from internet consultancy Analysys International.

WeChat Pay and Alipay, which account for 39.5 per cent and 53.7 per cent of the sector respectively, are competing for every corner of the market in China, from hailing a ride or seeing a doctor to paying restaurant tips and even renting an apartment.

The gap between the two is narrowing fast; Alipay accounted for over 80 per cent of transaction value just three years ago. In recent months, the two main mobile payment rivals have upped the ante by aggressively expanding overseas. WeChat pay is now available in 15 countries and regions for payments in 12 currencies, while Alipay is accepted in more than 100,000 shops in 26 countries across Europe, North America, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.