Getting a cup of coffee in Starbucks used to be a pretty pedestrian affair. Stand in line, hand over some crumpled banknotes and receive your fuel for the day. Mobile payments are changing that: more than just another way to pay, they are becoming the contact point for consumers and businesses. With the fast rise of WeChat Pay and Alipay, China is on the front line in designing new marketing channels—as well as collecting our data through mobile payments.

Starbucks is the most classic example of this trend, according to Thomas Graziani, co-founder of  WalkTheChat, an agency focusing on China’s most popular social network WeChat. Starbucks launched its coffee gifting feature on WeChat last year in the form of coupons: users can simply buy a coffee coupon with a cute virtual card and gift it to a friend.

The promotion takes inspiration from “hongbao”—virtual envelopes for gifting money which boosted Alipay and WeChat Pay use during their nascent years. Today, they are commonly used by ride-hailing and food delivery apps in China to draw consumers, usually containing coupons or discounts. Since the rise of “hongbao,” other avenues for driving engagement are rising.

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Masha Borak

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] technode.com. Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.