China's race to a cashless society
In a country where cash was still king four years ago, mobile payment has become essential. The ease of use of electronic wallets such as WeChat Pay or Alipay contrast with the inefficiency of Chinese banks.
Since people pay with their smartphones, the cashier of the FamilyMart, Shanghai's favourite supermarket brand, no longer has the time to recite her ritornello: "Hello and welcome, do you have a loyalty card? How do you pay ? For 5 yuan more, a yogurt offered ... “. The customer has already turned its back to him. The client no longer needs to look for his money, or wait for it to be returned to him. The cashier has only two things to do: scan the barcode of the product, then the two-dimensional QR code that appears on the phone screen, and it is done. The customer receives a notification confirming the amount of his purchase immediately.
This method of payment at FamilyMart is not an exception reserved to the rich megacity such as Shanghai with its nearly 25 million inhabitants. Even in the most remote provinces, such as Qinghai (north-west region) or Tibet, the Chinese can pay with their phones through the electronic wallets of WeChat, Tencent's instant messenger, or Alipay, operated by Ant Financial, subsidiary of the online trading giant Alibaba.
And they do not hesitate: the volume of mobile transactions for online and in-store purchases has soared in the past three years, from 183 billion dollars (154 billion euros) in 2013 to 5 500 billion dollars (EUR 4,600 billion) in 2016.
In central Shanghai, shopkeepers in Xuhui District estimate that between half and two-thirds of transactions are now mobile. Administrations are also following this trend ; in Shanghai, the water and electricity bills, and now even bills issued by hospitals can be paid for with a smartphone. Even police officers have now an application that allows offenders to pay fines with their mobile phone. Taxi drivers were among the first to embrace this technology, and the few of them who do not accept it warn you in advance.
Clearly, there is no way back and the Chinese economy is definitely moving toward a no cash economy.