WeChat enjoyed success in China, but finding the overseas market a tough nut to crack. Source: Shutterstock

WeChat Pay struggles to gain traction outside of China

CHINA’S popular payments app is facing difficulties in getting users outside of the country.

Recently, WeChat Pay launched a campaign in Malaysia giving away free money on its mobile wallet in a bid to attract more users.

This move mirrors WeChat Pay’s efforts in China back in 2014. The digital red packets, known as “e-hongbao” was credited for the payment wallet’s early success in the country.

The localized wallet was first launched in June, allowing Malaysian residents to make payments and transfer money in ringgit once linked to a local debit card.

Similar to the one-stop services concept in China, the Malaysian version offers functions such as mobile phone top-ups, and bus and plane ticket booking. The features are still a bit thin on the ground compared to China, however.

Although WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, has seen success with “e-hongbao” in China, analysts remain skeptical to the viability of its efforts overseas.

While “e-hongbao” was a good strategy for initial onboarding of users, WeChat’s success in China is really attributed to the robust ecosystem of merchants that are on the platform. Most users are able to pay for high-frequency services, such as ride-hailer Didi Chuxing.

In Malaysia, that space is currently occupied by ride hailer Grab, which also has its own payment wallet GrabPay. Besides GrabPay, local wallets Boost, FavePay, and Touch n Go are some players dominating the mobile wallet space.

WeChat Pay’s rival, Alipay, has better luck overseas in comparison, serving in 10 countries including Malaysia. Alipay’s services are all offered through partnerships with local payments providers.

“Wechat Pay and Alipay are more for Chinese tourists to use in Malaysia,” Navin Danapal, Director of Southeast Asia, MOX accelerator told Singapore media Tech in Asia. “People won’t switch payment platforms when [the option of linked services] is limited or if they already use other payment methods.”

Previously, the company has said it is focusing on targeting outbound Chinese tourists, and won’t be eyeing on further international expansion in the short term.

Apart from Malaysia, Hong Kong is the only territory outside of mainland China to have localized versions of WeChat Pay.

Barring efforts to drive mobile payments, the WeChat messaging app itself has seen success in Malaysia.

WeChat Senior VP S.Y. Lau told Reuters that the messaging platform recorded over 20 million active users in the country. For context, Malaysia’s population size is over 31 million, according to the World Bank.