Alibaba-owned Ant Financial has begun to expand its Alipay mobile payments platform into the U.S. market and the rest of North America with partner First Data, following a pilot program the two companies ran last year with luxury and specialty retailers in California and New York, according to a First Data press release.
The first U.S. point-of-sale implementations of the Alipay platform will occur at First Data’s 4 million U.S. business customers, including retailers. Specifically, the rollout will start with First Data clients using the company’s Clover suite of solutions.
Alipay transactions will be routed through Acculynk, the routing technology provider First Data acquired in March. During the Alipay transaction, Acculynk will tokenize the Alipay QR code for secure settlement of a payment.
This is a long-anticipated move whose timing still comes as a bit of a surprise, given that Alibaba-owned marketplace Taobao has faced renewed scrutiny from U.S. regulators over its "large volume of allegedly counterfeit and pirated goods" in recent months — a development that Alibaba specifically blamed on tense political relations between the U.S. and China.
Alipay's U.S. expansion potentially could have major long-term implications on the mobile payments environment in the region. Some reports suggest Alipay will primarily target or appeal to Chinese tourists in the U.S., and in a statement from First Data, an Alipay official said as much, noting that 4 million tourists from China visit the U.S. each year.
However, that seems like a limiting strategy, and this effort, regardless of stated objectives, gives Alipay an initial foothold in the U.S. and North America. What will it do from here on out? It's hard to say exactly, but Alipay, like Alibaba, is a global juggernaut. It has more than 450 million users worldwide and very deep resources. As it becomes available at First Data POS locations, and eventually elsewhere, the platform will have a solid market in which to launch some pretty major marketing efforts.
The mobile payment sector is teeming with offerings from different types of providers, some of whom are retailers pushing their own brands into the mobile payments space. Though Apple Pay has seen the strongest market momentum, it's still early enough that no one has won this market yet. There are also some indications that adoption of existing mobile payment offerings recently has stagnated, a notion which might favor a deep-pocketed mobile payments brand entering a new region.
Both Alipay and fellow Chinese payment platform WeChat are now targeting the U.S. market, which is happening as Apple Pay as partners with China's Union Pay to allow Apple Pay to venture into China. This may well be the start of a global battle over mobile payments.