Alipay, Alibaba’s online payment platform, has unveiled a radical overhaul of its mobile app integrating social-networking functions in an effort to emulate the success of WeChat and Snapchat.
In its latest update, Version 9.2, released on Thursday, Alipay adds a feature called “Living” under the ‘Friends’ tab, which at first glance appears to be a clone of the ‘Moments’ feature of Tencent’s popular messaging service, WeChat. It allows users to post photos, short videos and interact with each other with “likes” and comments over a rolling news feed.
Screenshot of Alipay’s “Living” feature.
What sets Living comfortably apart from Moments is a “tipping” feature and “Live”. Think of tipping as akin to Facebook’s “like” function but with monetary rewards. Appreciating a friend’s photo or video now has a cash value attached to it. Tip amounts are randomly determined by Alipay and never exceed one RMB (0.16 USD). All money transfers are managed through Alipay, of course. Live, as its name suggests, amplifies the onsite experience by enabling live video streaming.
Alipay also improves its messaging system, with texts, photos and videos now given the option of being able to self-destruct, rather like Snapchat. “You no longer need to worry about your slip of tongue,” Alipay notes in its update.
Both Alibaba and Tencent are building an ecosystem around their super apps with users being able to book on-demand services, stay connected with families and friends, and manage bills and finance, without ever having to exit the interface. Alibaba has spent years nurturing Chinese consumer behavior with its powerful e-commerce sites and payment system Alipay, while Tencent has shaped the Chinese social scene with its messaging tools QQ and WeChat. Now both companies are dipping their toes in each other’s turf.
Alipay dominates 80% of China’s mobile payment market with 400 million annual active users. Alibaba also owns both Taobao and Tmall, which collectively command 80% of the country’s online shopping market.
Jack Ma must surely be wringing his hands at Tencent’s threats. Tencent took aim at Alibaba by buying a 15% stake in JD.com, China’s third largest e-commerce site. Tencent’s online payment system, WeChat Wallet, also ambushed Alipay with its Chinese New Year Lucky Money frenzy, which nabbed eight million users in one swoop. Jack Ma refers to this event as Tencent’s “Pearl Harbor Attack.”
Meanwhile, Alibaba has made little headway into social media. Its social networking app, Laiwang (literally “Back and Forth”), failed miserably, not being able to dent WeChat’s monopoly and is now largely forgotten. Dingtalk, Alibaba’s workspace communication tool has seen slow adoption with Chinese working professionals seeming reluctant to switch over.
“This world is finally gravitating toward unity. WeChat looks increasingly similar to Alipay, and Alipay resembles WeChat in more ways than ever,” a user commented on Weibo, the Chinese analogue to Twitter.