Even as a first-time visitor to China, it is impossible not to notice the prevalence of QR codes in restaurants, attractions, and even the mom-and-pop shops along the street. Have you ever wondered what China’s QR codes are for?
Anyone living outside China might not know much about WeChat. The common misconception is that it’s essentially a Chinese version of WhatsApp- until you visit China and experience WeChat in full force. You’d be hard-pressed to find an app more ubiquitous considering its 93% adoption rate in Chinese cities and how it is ingrained in every facet of daily life. With over a billion active monthly users, this is undeniably the #1 app in China, even in the workplace- email loses out!
Walk around a local market and you’ll see that even the grandma selling tomatoes embraces WeChat technology. By displaying her QR code, customers scan it using WeChat and pay using a digital wallet. A WeChat wallet is an internal account that sends and receives money instantly and can be topped-up directly from your bank account. There are zero transaction fees on either side, isn’t that awesome? WeChat payments are so common in China that cash payments can be met with a strange look.
Many people no longer carry cash or card, with up to 98% of urban residents using digital wallets. It’s becoming more common to have stores and vending machines that accept cash through digital wallets only, which eliminates the need for hiring cashiers and reduces transaction costs. It also saves time during every cash transaction, takes the hassle out of banking because you can do essentially everything from your phone. WeChat wallets also eliminate the worry over counterfeit currency, which is rampant in China.
Renting a bike, paying for your taxi, buying a train ticket, booking a hotel, grabbing movie tickets, topping up your mobile, paying your electricity bill or other utilities, ordering food delivery, online shopping… All of these (and so much more) can be accomplished using WeChat. It’s a mega-app that caters to essentially every online service.
All retailers and service providers are essentially forced into accepting WeChat payments due to the app’s penetration across all age groups and education levels. WeChat’s ease of use means paying anyone is a couple clicks, so there’s no need to enter a long string of credit card or bank account numbers each time you want to pay someone in person, or online.
Mini Programs are another WeChat feature that explains the app’s rampant popularity. It allows for the use of mini-apps, all integrated with the your WeChat profile and accounts. In WeChat home page, simply pull the page down, you will see recommended Mini Programs appear.
You can use DiDi, China’s #1 ride-share service, through their Mini Program. Tesla’s Mini Program lets you locate the nearest charging station or schedule a test drive. Movie theaters let you browse, book, and pay for movie tickets. Get the entire subway map and schedule updates. Many restaurants even have Mini Programs that let you browse and order through their online menu. It also hosts games, blogs, and every other type of application you can imagine- with over 1 million Mini Programs available.
Many businesses choose use WeChat Mini Programs because there’s no need for users to download an additional app, which eliminates barriers to entry as 93% of the population is already on there. With verified ID and payments built in, it’s a convenient way to meet your consumers. As of 2019, over 200 million people use Mini Programs daily.
You can send money directly to any contact’s WeChat wallet with zero transaction fees. Splitting the dinner bill or paying back a loved one is very easy in China. WeChat also has some uniquely Chinese features; you can send virtual hongbao, which traditionally is a red envelope filled with cash and given during Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings or for best wishes. During 2019 Chinese New Year, a whopping 820 million messages were sent on WeChat between contacts using virtual red envelopes.
Here comes the golden question: “I am traveling to China, can I download the WeChat app and pay people with WeChat?” Firstly, you can download and use the basic app (it’s free!) which we definitely recommend. You’ll be able to communicate with people in China much easier and most businesses have an official WeChat account that offer ticket purchases, payments, and details about their organization. It’s actually more common for people to interface with a business’s WeChat account then go to their website.
However, if you want to use the WeChat Pay function, you will need to have a bank card from Mainland China plus a local phone number that is linked with your bank card. WeChat is due to accept international credit cards soon, but at this time there are reports of consistent errors when attempting to add foreign cards.
“Moments” which is akin to Facebook or Instagram is a popular social media feature on WeChat that allows users to post just about anything (with some censorship is in place, it is China after all) from their daily musings to work-related announcements, and for their contacts to react by liking or commenting. Many people spend hours scrolling through their “Moments” everyday and the rising middle class is at the forefront of this because they want to be seen doing “cool” things like hanging out in a cafe or a brewery.
If you are traveling to China, why not start learning how to use WeChat and be a step ahead of your peers back home? Lost Plate has a WeChat account (add our ID: lostplate) that you can use to find out more about our tours, chat with us, book a tour and for foreigners living in China, pay via the app. Of course, we also welcome hongbao if you would like to test out the function to see how it works!
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