East vs West
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Cultural Differences: Cash And Credit Cards Versus Cashless Societies

Imagine A World Without WeChat Pay

Recently, on a return trip from China, Guangzhou to Sydney, Australia, I came into Oliver Brown to order a coffee.

I asked, “Can I pay with WeChat?”

The service staff in Oliver Brown looked confused with my request, and shook her head no.

I asked again, “Can I pay with Alipay?”

Once more, the female service staff in Oliver Brown Sydney shook her head really confused.

I knew the answer would be no both times.

This raised a cultural difference I knew that exists between Chinese and Western societies in America, Australian and Britain regarding the convenience of online payment platforms such as WeChat Pay and Alipay.

I explained it to the Oliver Brown service staff, “Australia really needs to catch up.”

Still unsure, she wondered, “What do you mean?”

I clarified, “In countries like China, you can use virtual wallets like WeChat and Alipay to pay for bills using your phone.”

She did not understand the concept.

In Australia, I came to appreciate that the prevalence of online payment platforms such as WeChat were virtually unknown to people in the western businesses and western societies America, Britain, and Australia, except for in the minds and hearts of Chinese who travel abroad.

The Concept Of WeChat Pay And Online Payment Systems

So, what is WeChat Pay?

Think of an online bank account integrated into Facebook mobile.

Instead of open an online bank account with Commonwealth bank for example, Facebook serves as the bank.  Once you deposit money with Facebook, you can use their Facebook mobile APP to buy a coffee at Oliver Brown.

The money is like cash in your mobile phone.

You can see it as you spend it.

There are also no additional fees associated with WeChat payments, whereas fees associated with EFTPOS and credit card payments are the bane of western society to know business has to pass those fees on to its customers.

How To Add Money To Virtual Wallets

WeChat Pay is integrated into mobile phones, and allows online cashless transactions to be made by the WeChat account holder.

The money you own is stored in a virtual wallet accessible via the WeChat APP.

You can top up the money in WeChat Pay in several ways.

  • A linked credit card or bank card.
  • Fee-free direct cashless money transfers between WeChat contacts.
  • There are also services like theswapsy.com which let you make fee-free USD-CNY currency exchanges with other verified users of the service.

The Ease Of WeChat Pay Versus Credit Cards

The ease and convenience of WeChat payments is what I miss about my time in China, being able to access all your money through your phone, and not have to flash a credit card each time you make a purchase.

That is what I had to do today.  I had to check I still have money in my bank account before I made a purchase.  I had to stand aside, log into my bank account, enter a password, check the balance, then approach the counter, make an order, open my wallet, remove the bank card, swipe the bank card, and respond to whether I wanted a receipt.

Then I could drink a coffee.

A physical bank card to do business is also so convenient.

With WeChat Pay, you simply wave your mobile phone over a printed QR code, scan, enter your online payment password, and then wave your phone to the Oliver Brown staff to show the transaction was successful.

WeChat is super convenient.

WeChat is connected to your bank card, you are continually inside your card, and you have your mobile phone on you at the same time when making a cashless transaction.

That is also convenient.

Bank balance checks are also easy.

Credit cards can prove inconvenient for simple account balance checks.  You need to log into your account separately before you can see how much you spent or your account balance.  The bank then logs you out for security reasons.

Because WeChat serves as a messaging service on your mobile phone, chances are you are already logged in to talk to your friends and family.  So, checking your balance then becomes as simple as a press of a button.

This cashless society exists in China now.  Sometimes shop keepers do not even keep enough cash because online cashless payments are so common in China now.

Unfortunately, the equivalent of WeChat payments does not exist in American, British and Australian western societies.

The Pros Of WeChat Pay

The reason I love WeChat Pay is because it has saved me from many embarrassing situations in China.  I lost my wallet one time, so my friends could make an immediate cashless money transfer to allow me to pay for hotel rooms and food, otherwise I would be homeless in the days while a new bank card was created.

You can use WeChat Pay to pay for:

  • Metro, bus and ferry tickets
  • Supermarket groceries
  • drinks from vending machines
  • Arcade games
  • High speed train tickets
  • Airline tickets
  • Logistics
  • Insurance
  • Online shopping
  • B2C business
  • Donations
  • Work Salary
  • Bills, amenities and government debts

You can buy products, pay for services, make donations, and settle government debts with e-wallets.

You can also use WeChat Pay to collectively pay a bill.  There is a split pay feature, which allows a group of people to split one bill.

You can even beg for money using WeChat.

You could even ask a friend or a relative who is a WeChat contact to send money immediately to allow you to order a coffee.

In essence, WeChat Pay introduces a trade and barter system with this ability of cashless money transfers between people online.

Virtual Wallets Making Inroads Into Popular Culture

Up until now in western society, cash and credit card purchases have been the only real options to make immediate purchases.

Whereas, WeChat Pay pervades all of Chinese society, from the coffee you buy, to your work salary, to paying for Taobao products online.

If an ATM is broken down, no problem, you can buy a coffee with your mobile phone.

Despite all these benefits, WeChat Pay and Alipay has gained no noticeable traction in Western countries like America, Britain and Australia.

There is virtually no penetration.

WeChat Pay (微信支付) Versus Credit Cards

Recently, a Canadian English teacher colleague mentioned, “You know in Canada they do not have WeChat Pay.”

I said, “I know the reason why that is.  It is because Facebook or other APPs that Canadian people use do not have scanning technology built into any APPs, so it is not convenient to use something like ALIPAY or WeChat Pay.  It has not caught on.”

…“Whereas in China, WeChat has QR technology built into it, and every single Chinese person uses WeChat in China, so it is very easy to introduce WeChat Pay technology, because everyone in China is able to use that technology through WeChat.”

She asked, “So, you use WeChat as well do you?  Do you think I can add your WeChat?”


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