With a population of 1.35 billion people, more than half of whom already use mobile services, the People's Republic of China represents the largest and perhaps the most attractive, if somewhat challenging, market for mobile commerce on Earth.
The mobile payment market has already tripled between the second quarter of last year and the second quarter of 2013, according to a report released in August by China's central bank. Chinese consumers conducted more than 371 million transactions on mobile devices, totaling more than $340 billion, in the second quarter of this year. Compared to a year earlier, those numbers have grown by 274.7 percent and 363.9 percent, respectively.
"China's population is bigger and there is a movement to urban areas, which is an opportunity for mobile payment providers," says Jeremy Huo, a managing director in Accenture's Financial Services group in Greater China. "We expect to see more de-regulation in the market in coming years, which will be a development that will help grow the market."
Accenture, a management consulting and technology services company, in September helped deploy a mobile payments service developed with YSPay, a 13-year-old bank card acquirer and prepaid card issuer based in China. The service would allow consumers, banks and merchants on YSPay's system to process payments through a mobile phone. (Merchants type phone numbers to initiate a payment and consumers receive a text confirming the payment will be sent. Smartphone users can receive coupons and make purchases through a mobile app.)
Many other mobile payment ventures launched in China in recent months. In June, China UnionPay, China's only domestic bank card association, and China Mobile Ltd., the country's state-owned mobile network, announced an agreement to launch a joint mobile payments business in Shanghai, working together initially on research and development, marketing and technology.
Their venture will explore the use of the mobile phone SIM card to store bank account information for mobile payments. The companies said at the time of the announcement that they intend to launch business pilots in multiple cities.
Alipay, China's equivalent of PayPal, is looking at vending machines as another route to accept mobile payments. It has deals with more than a dozen mainland vending machine companies, including Ubox, to integrate its mobile-pay service this year into machines at the Beijing subway stations and school campuses.
The potential market for Alipay's mobile payment service goes well beyond vending machines already, according to the company. "As of now, more than 20,000 merchants are using Alipay's mobile payment," says Alipay spokesperson Teresa Li. She would not disclose the number of consumers who use mobile payment via Alipay.
All Alipay users can fulfill payments on mobile phones, tablets and smart TVs with the company's Alipay mobile wallet. They can pay for mobile phone charges, utilities, credit cards as well as online purchases, she says.
"The mobile payment sector is growing by leaps and bounds with the rapid growth of mobile shopping," Li adds.
Consumers are also warming to mobile payments, Li says. Fifty-eight percent of Chinese consumers say they are confident about using mobile payments, according to survey results from IPSOS. Additionally, the survey found that 56 percent of smartphone users in China say that they expect to make purchases on their smartphones in the future.
"Acceptance of mobile payment is very optimistic in China," says Li. "Most Chinese netizens regard mobile payment as an extension of PC payment."