BEIJING (Reuters) – Ant Financial, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, will start allowing third-party vendors to offer services such as food delivery and hotel bookings on its Alipay mobile payment platform in an expansion beyond its financial services focus.
Alipay traditionally competes against Tencent Holding’s WeChat pay in China for mobile payments and financial services, with users using both apps daily for tasks such as paying bills, buying groceries or booking taxis.
But Alipay said on Tuesday it plans to start allowing third-party vendors that offer services like retail, food and healthcare on its platform, moving into a realm that analysts say will pit it more firmly against on-demand service giant Meituan Dianping’s “super-app”.
Alipay said it planned to help 40 million vendors “digitize” their services over the next three years by enabling them to open “mini-programs” on Alipay. This in turn will allow the vendors to tap its 900 million-strong user base in China.
“Building a one-stop digital lifestyle platform not only creates immense value for our users – it will also play an essential role in accelerating the digital transformation of the service industry and unlocking more growth opportunities,” Ant Financial Chief Executive Officer Simon Hu, who was appointed to lead the company in December, said in a statement.
Meituan, which is currently China’s third most valuable internet company by market captalization, offers services varying from on-demand food delivery, movie ticketing, to hotel and travel booking on its platform.
Alipay said it had during the coronavirus outbreak in China introduced an incentive scheme to entice developers to create mini-programs for some vendors, resulting in 181 mini programs being created during the week.
One of the vendors that launched delivery services on Alipay during this period was Beijing-based grocery startup Meicai, which connects farmers with consumers and restaurants, it said. Meicai competes directly with Meituan Maicai, also a grocery delivery app.
Ant has also been pushing ahead with expansion plans outside its home turf of China to offset tepid growth. It has in recent months applied for a Singapore digital banking license, and invested in similar businesses in Southeast Asia and Europe.
Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Emelia Sithole-Matarise