China's mobile payment platform WeChat Pay will work in Italy for the first time, the company announced on Monday.
The announcement, which follows a deal with Docomo Digital, a digital payment solutions provider, is the latest salvo by WeChat Pay in its competition with its largest rival, China's Alipay, for the burgeoning market from Chinese tourists visiting Europe.
In Italy, the payment technology will be enabled by Docomo Digital. Chinese travelers will be able to make a payment through the WeChat app on their phone, by scanning the barcode on the payment terminal hosted by retailers. As part of the same deal, the digital marketing company Digital Retex will help partnered retailers host an official WeChat account that will be used to promote the brands' activities.
WeChat Pay is the payment arm of WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp.
WeChat has 980 million active users a month. In 2017, WeChat Pay was used by Chinese consumers at an average rate of 1 million transactions per minute, according to WeChat Pay's own estimates.
Monday's announcementmeans Italian brands can sign up to accept payments via WeChat Pay. So far, none of them have installed a payment terminal, meaning Chinese shoppers will still need to wait a while before such payments will be accepted.
WeChat Pay started exploring opportunities across Europe in 2015 by starting an office in Italy, although actual payment only became available in 2017, initially in the UK and France, through partnerships with several European payment facilitators including French bank BNP Paribas.
So far, the number of retailers signing up to the WeChat Pay network is limited, but Fausto Caprini, CEO of Digital Retex, sees "huge potential" and cites the anticipated flow of Chinese tourists to Europe this year as a key factor.
The year 2018 is EU-China Tourism Year and there will be several government-supported events to encourage tourism.
Caprini said he believes one advantage WeChat Pay has over Alipay is the long-term interaction that brands can have with customers, because, after a retailer accepts payment through WeChat Pay, the seller can easily invite the customer to follow its official WeChat account, which keeps the customer in its network.
Digital Retex started helping European brands host their official WeChat accounts in 2016. So far, it maintains the official WeChat accounts of more than 70 European brands, including famous fashion brands such as Valentino, Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piana.
Alipay, which also started its European expansion in 2015 with the establishment of an office in London, is now accepted across 18 European countries.