When will Hong Kong catch up with the rest of China in e-commerce space?

E-commerce is slowly growing in popularity in Hong Kong but for the time being, the mainland is still leaps and bounds ahead of the curve.
Imaginechina

I’ve become so used to using my smartphone to pay for everything that I was a bit shocked when I had to use an Australian credit card because my WeChat and Alipay — which I can use in Australia and New Zealand with ease — were useless as I was trying to grab a bite to eat while transferring through Hong Kong airport recently. How can that be?

I must admit that I was probably a bit naive to think these apps would just work seamlessly, especially since Hong Kong is part of China.

Last year I bought last-minute gifts at Wellington airport in New Zealand on my way home and was surprised to find that both WeChat and Alipay are available (although the staff, admittedly, weren’t too familiar with how to use them.)

Back in Hong Kong, WeChat and Alipay are available for mobile payments in some stores in large shopping malls, as well as some Metro stations that are frequented by tourists from the Chinese mainland, but they are not at all widely accepted.

Part of it has to do with e-commerce trends in the city. It is said that Hong Kong has a shopping mall for every square kilometer, and people there still like to buy things in the flesh, making a dent in any impetus to engage with e-commerce platforms.

It turns out the battle has been on to try and ramp up acceptance of mobile payment platforms there recently, thanks largely to two of China’s e-commerce behemoths. Both WeChat and Alipay have been fighting to capture the city’s attention, launching special Hong Kong versions of the apps to encourage engagement, but it may be a case of Mission: Impossible.

SHINE

Octopus card, a staple for the past two decades, is often called the "second ID card of Hong Kong residents."

However, that hasn’t stopped the two platforms trying their best to change attitudes. They have been pushing taxi drivers and street hawkers to start utilizing their apps for cashless payments, but without too much success to date. And even then, those are the Hong Kong versions, which means mainlanders are out in the cold.

In terms of transportation, the city’s residents much prefer to use the local Octopus card, a staple for the past two decades, doing away with the need for mobile payments, at least for now.

There are also legal issues. WeChat, for example, only obtained a local payment license in late 2016. Now anyone who wants to use WeChat Pay there needs to be registered with a Hong Kong phone number. That’s useless for tourists from the mainland, including me.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Hong Kong any time soon and fancy a spot of shopping, or simply forgot what cash felt like to the touch, you might want to keep this in mind. Before you go, exchange some Hong Kong dollars at your nearest bank, or you could always go the credit card route.

Don’t for a second think that you can zip out the door with just your phone in hand like you do back home. Hong Kong may be a modern metropolis, but in this case it’s still quite behind.

E-commerce is slowly growing in popularity in Hong Kong but for the time being, the mainland is still leaps and bounds ahead of the curve.


Special Reports
Top