Alipay eyes 40m service providers with efforts to open up platform

Alibaba is looking to rope in 40 million service providers in China as part of a three-year plan to expand the reach of its mobile payment platform and meet consumer demand for various lifestyle services.

Alipay has embarked on a three-year plan to bring 40 million service providers across China onto its mobile payment platform and expand the types of services available to consumers. The move aims to open up the platform, enabling these providers to develop and offer a range of lifestyle apps for food delivery, hotel booking, transport, and medical services. 

Operated by Alibaba's fintech business, Ant Financial Services Group, Alipay said the three-year plan would drive the transformation of its platform from one that provides financial services to "an open, vibrant digital ecosystem" that serves as a one-stop gateway for lifestyle services. 

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As part of this strategy, the Alipay platform would be updated to enable service providers to tap into the user traffic within the app, which is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to enhance customer experience, said the Alibaba business unit. It added that users would be able to access personalised recommendations from newly added service sections.

Alipay said it would work with 50,000 independent software vendors (ISVs) over the next three years to help 40 million service providers digitalise their operations, improve their efficiency, and reach more customers by 2030. These ISVs are companies that tap Alipay's technologies and build apps to meet the needs of specific industries and use cases, spanning consumer retail, food and beverage, hotels and accommodations, transportation, and medical services.

There currently are more than 1 million service providers on the mobile platform. 

Citing figures from China's National Bureau of Statistics, Alipay said the local service industry accounted for 59.4% of the country's GDP growth last year. However, it noted, local service providers still operated on traditional brick-and-mortar business models and have yet to embrace digital technologies to improve efficiencies and customer service. 

At the same time, consumer demand for digital services has been growing rapidly. According to Alipay, the number of searches for lifestyle services within its mobile app climbed 300% year-on-year in 2019. 

Ant CFO Simon Hu said: "The service sector in China is still in the nascent stages of digital transformation and that means it has huge untapped potential. Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, we have also seen how digital technology can be used to help service providers become more agile and respond effectively to the fast-changing market environment.

"Building a one-stop digital lifestyle platform not only creates immense value for our users, it will also play an essential role in accelerating the digital transformation of the service industry and unlocking more growth opportunities," Hu said.

Over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, Alipay launched an incentive program that encourages developers to create mini programs that can help users cope with the epidemic, for example, by addressing lifestyle needs of those living and working from home, while minimising the need to make physical contact with service providers.

More than 1,200 developers answered the call within a week, creating 181 mini programs on the Alipay app that enabled "contact-less" services across China, including grocery deliveries, legal and medical advice, logistics, and public services. For example, there is a mini program offered by AliHealth that provides free medical consultation which has clocked an average 700,000 visits a day. 

Beijing-based grocery startup Meicai also introduced a mini program that made its delivery services available to Alipay users. More than 800,000 new users signed up and orders came from 80 cities across China, said Alipay. 

Previously available only to consumers with a Chinese bank account and local mobile number, the mobile payment platform last November was opened to foreign visitors in China for the first time. This variation was designed specifically for international travellers, who have to register with their overseas mobile number to access the Tour Pass function on the e-wallet. 

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