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In an alleyway in London’s Camden Market, a woman in ripped black jeans and fingerless gloves fiddles with an iPad screen. Like most shopkeepers in this area, Emma Peonia usually sells clothes to tattooed youngsters paying with debit cards or cash but, for the first time, she is using a Chinese payments app to sell an Iron Maiden T-shirt.
“My boss thought it would be useful — she has just created a new website,” she says. “She wants to sell more to Chinese tourists.”
WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app owned by technology group Tencent, launched its payment service, WeChat Pay, in the UK on Wednesday. It is hoping that more shops like Ms Peonia’s will use it to target Chinese consumers, who last year spent £513m in the UK, according to Visit Britain, the tourism body.
As part of a modernisation push by its owners, Camden Market will ask more than 1,000 shops and restaurants to sign up to the app over the next four months, so that people with Chinese bank accounts linked to WeChat can shop in the market using their smartphones.
The idea is to replicate a system that Alipay, the rival Chinese payment app, has already implemented in the Harrods and Selfridges department stores. “In terms of the Chinese market it just offers a very good opportunity to us,” said Ceri Davies, operations director at Camden Market. “They’re currently super attracted by the likes of Selfridges and Harrods and the more ways there are of paying, the better.”
Tencent has already rolled out its payment platform — known in China as WeixinPay — around the world but this is its first foray into the UK. It is mainly targeting Chinese tourists, who can use their phones to pay while on holiday.
Chinese tourists can use their phones to pay while on holiday
It launched its payments system a decade after Alipay — which is run by Ant financial, an affiliate of Tencent’s biggest rival, Alibaba — but has since taken a 37 per cent slice of China’s market. The WeChat messaging app is ubiquitous in the country and has 980m monthly active users around the world. Users outside the home markets are mainly overseas Chinese or those with business or other connections in the mainland, for whom it is often the only way to communicate.