Alipay, a digital payment service operated by Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group, is taking steps to monetize its 1 billion-strong user base by doubling down on livestreamed e-commerce, a route taken by many other Chinese platforms with vast user pools.

The fintech giant also announced an updated international version of Alipay on Thursday that promised to make it easier for foreign visitors to China to use the digital payment service using Visa, Mastercard, and other major credit cards.

Why it matters: Labeled an “important strategic partner” by Alibaba, Ant Group is focused on preparing for a Hong Kong IPO. This puts pressure on the Jack Ma-founded business to accelerate commercialization with a more diversified business ecosystem.

Details: The twin updates, unveiled on Thursday at this year’s Alipay Partner Conference, are a key part of the company’s expansion into “digital connectivity,” a term that refers to providing merchants with product and service interfaces such as mini-programs within their digital operations.

  • The “living channel” on the payment app’s homepage serves as a hub where merchants and influencers share short videos, lifestyle content, and engage in livestreaming. The live rooms that promote goods are mainly conducted by the brands themselves, adopting a similar style to Taobao Live. Viewers are directed to brands’ mini-apps once they click on a link located at the bottom right of the live page, enabling them to place an order within Alipay.
  • Alipay’s livestreaming product manager, Zhu Qinmei, told the conference that the company believes the average transaction value per user in Alipay’s livestreaming rooms could surpass the industry average by two or three times. Alipay has also mentioned an approach for sellers to upload their products to a centralized “product pool,” where influencers can select specific items for promotion within their individual live rooms.
  • Mini-programs, which are effectively apps within a bigger app such as WeChat and Alipay, are increasingly regarded as vital drivers of business growth in China. The number of active mini-programs on Alipay has surged by 119% in the past year, according to He Yongming, vice president of Ant, while the gross merchandise volume (GMV) generated by merchant mini-programs has risen by 79%. Alipay has not yet disclosed the scale of total sales. By comparison, WeChat mini-programs achieved a transaction volume in the tens of trillions of yuan in 2022, marking a year-on-year growth of over 40%.
  • As for the second announcement of the day, Alipay has updated its international version as it looks to enhance user experience for foreign customers, by integrating frequently-used travel services, including hotel booking, air ticket booking, ride-hailing, public transport, and exchange rate checking.

Context: The Jack Ma-backed Ant Group has reportedly been undergoing significant restructuring ahead of its listing in Hong Kong. This may involve the separation of certain non-core operations of its finance-related business. The decision comes after Ant was hit with a nearly $1 billion fine in early July, in a signal by the Chinese authorities that it was concluding its crackdown on the firm in the wake of its abrupt abandoning of what was expected to be the world’s biggest IPO in late 2020.

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]