Use Alipay to Buy Anything in China… Even Street Food

And if you do, you might even get a discount


The streets of Chinese cities are constantly tempting pedestrians with the sweet aroma coming from the food stalls that always seem to come between you and your dinner. But it will become harder to resist this attraction as buying street food — much like buying anything these days — has just become a lot easier.

Online payment systems in China have expanded to the point where you can now pay for a jianbing (a Chinese flatcake) at a food stall on the street by by using an e-payment app on your mobile phone. That’s right, Alibaba’s Alipay e-payment system is now available to food stalls and wet markets, thereby covering even more facets of the Chinese urban lifestyle.

At the same time as a wet market in Wenzhou, Zhejiang loudly announces a partnership with Alipay with multiple signs and banners (as seen in the gallery above), 600 breakfast vans in nearby Shanghai are also announcing that their customers can now make purchases using the Alibaba e-payment system.

Food from these mobile food stalls are among the cheapest things you can buy in China, but Alipay offers an additional incentive. Purchases at a breakfast van made with Alipay in excess of ten yuan ($1.6) will be eligible for a discount.

The Shanghai Commercial Commission and the Shanghai Breakfast Industry Association said the online payment system will eventually be extended to all 1,000 of the city’s licensed breakfast vans.

There have been numerous announcements of stores and services recently partnering with Alipay.

In August, Lawson convenience stores announced that their customers can pay with their purchases with Alipay in stores located in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai, thereby joining some 40,000 other Chinese supermarket and convenience store outlets that offer the e-payment system.

Last week, Mariott International announced that ten of its hotels in China have begun allowing guests to pay for their stays using Alipay. The service will first be available to hotels like the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai and the Renaissance Beijing Capital, and then be extended to more hotels in China and across Asia in 2016.

But it’s not just stores. Also in August, Alipay finalized a partnership with online payments processor Stripe, thereby connecting Western companies with potential Chinese customers on platforms like Kickstarter, Lyft, and Shopify.

Although Alipay owns about half the Chinese online payment market with its 400 million registered users, other e-payment systems are looking to expand as well.

Staring September 30, Chinese tourists making purchases at Japanese department store Daimaru Matsuzakaya will be able to make purchases using the WeChat payment system TenPay, which plans to partner with over 10,000 Japanese retailers over the next three years.

While the proliferation of e-payment in China appears to be unstoppable, there have been some missteps along the way. This past June 6 on “Internet Credit Day”, two convenience stores in Beijing and Hangzhou attempted to offer their customers a “cashier-less” checkout experience using just Alipay and their own conscience, only to have some patrons simply walk out with their purchases without paying.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor