Mobile payments

Octopus tries to win e-wallet users with HK$8 lobsters, as Hong Kong mobile payment war heats up with Chinese rivals Alipay and WeChat Pay

Local service provider is playing catch-up with firms from across the border as electronic payment market rapidly expands in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 March, 2018, 11:18am

The battle for Hong Kong’s e-payment market heated up on Thursday morning as 150 shoppers queued in the rain to snap up lobsters for just HK$8 as part of a promotional campaign by Octopus.

The local service provider sought to entice customers to sign up to its e-wallet as mainland Chinese rivals Alipay and WeChat Pay compete for everything in the city from taxis to food retailers.

Shoppers willing to pay by scanning a QR code with their smartphone using Octopus app O! ePay were offered an American lobster for only HK$8 at Heng On street market in Ma On Shan. The sea creatures usually go for about HK$180 apiece. The first 88 customers secured the deal, and there would be new offers on each of the following eight days, according to market operator Uni-China Market Management.

A fruit stall owner surnamed Ho said: “QR codes are easier for us to use as we don’t need to install a device at our stall as we do to charge Octopus cards.”

He was referring to Octopus’ stored-value contactless payment cards, which were launched in 1997 and have since come to dominate e-payments in Hong Kong, being used by residents to pay for everything from subway rides to snacks and drinks.

But Octopus has been playing catch-up in recent months to get vendors to use smartphone-based payment methods. It introduced the QR code feature last November, after AlipayHK began working with Po Tat Market in Kwun Tong to encourage shoppers to pay via QR code.

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“Residents near the market embraced the method quickly and so we decided to promote QR codes at other markets,” said Peggy Lee, senior manager of Uni-China Market Management, which also operates that facility.

Many small and medium-sized retailers favour QR codes over the near-field communication technology used by Apple Pay, Google Pay and Octopus cards.

“Convenience is key to winning market share in Hong Kong,” said Wilson Chow, a consultant specialising in technology, media and telecommunications at accounting firm PwC. “That’s why mobile payment and e-wallet operators are providing subsidies to merchants and consumers.”

Alipay teamed up with tycoon Li Ka-shing’s conglomerate CK Hutchison in May last year to launch the Hong Kong version of its payment system. It has accumulated about a million users since then and reached about 10,000 retailers, according to the firm.

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It is a unit of Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

Besides retail, the company also aims to corner the market for utilities payments, Canning Fok, co-managing director of CK Hutchison, said.