Ant Financial wants its Alipay mobile payment app to support millions of other service providers in a bid to compete with Meituan and WeChat in digital lifestyle services.

Why it matters: The competition to build mini app ecosystems is heating up. This marks Ant Financial’s bid to rival Meituan’s all-purpose app and WeChat’s mini programs in being a one-stop-shop for “contactless services.”

  • This would mean users don’t have to leave the app to access many other conveniences.
  • Meituan launched a credit payment feature in January, marking its efforts to gain more fintech turf, competing head-on with Alipay, Tencent, and JD.com.

Details: At the Alipay Partner Conference on Mar. 10, Ant Financial announced a plan spanning the next three years to create a digital ecosystem. It will upgrade the Alipay app and tailor it to a multiple service platform.

  • Ant Financial wants to expand beyond financial services into a platform featuring third-party service providers which provide other lifestyle conveniences for its users, and reward them for it.
  • It will offer merchants growth assistance programs which include loan services.
  • “The service sector in China is still in the nascent stages of digital transformation, and that means it has huge untapped potential,” said Ant Financial CEO Hu Xiaoming.
  • The payment app said 1,200 developers answered its call to create mini programs that countered the impact from Covid-19, resulting in grocery delivery, legal and medical advice, and other public services.
  • A mini program launched by Beijing-based startup Meicai links farmers with consumers and restaurants, and had more than 800,000 users, which its CEO attributed to exposure on Alipay.
  • The homepage will use algorithms to recommend services to users, so that each user’s app is tailored to their requirements.

Context: In 2019, the number of searches for lifestyle services within the Alipay app has increased 300% compared with 2018.

  • Covid-19 has consumers relying on online food delivery, medical consultations, and remote learning while they are stuck at home.
  • Hu said that 80% of China’s service industry is not yet digitized.
  • WeChat was a first-mover on mini programs in 2017, and Alipay followed suit in 2018.
  • Mini-programs have become strategically important to the payment platform, amassing 500 million monthly active users last year.

Lavender Au

Lavender covers regulation and its effects on people. She previously worked in a policy advisory analyzing China’s internal governance for foreign governments and multinationals. A History graduate from...

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