Could Alibaba Rescue Apple Pay?

Jack Ma may bring mobile pay system to China

Could an Apple-Alibaba alliance be in the works? The two formidable tech companies have started a well-choreographed dance around Apple's new mobile payment system, Apple Pay, which some big retail chains in the U.S. are snubbing. 

Jack Ma, the billionaire who founded China's massive online store Alibaba, on Monday said he's open to bringing Apple Pay to the Chinese market, Reuters reported. "I hope we can do something together," he said at a Wall Street Journal digital conference in California.

Here's how the dance is going:

  • Ma is in the U.S. right now, meeting with Hollywood executives to purchase the rights to stream American TV shows and movies. He's also shopping for partners and acquisition opportunities with his $25 billion stock windfall.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook recently visited China to beat the drum for Apple's products, especially Apple Pay. The Cupertino, Calif. company is reportedly opening 25 retail stores in China in the next two years.
  • Cook and Ma attended the Journal's conference, where both men addressed speculation about Apple Pay working with Alibaba's Alipay—China's largest online payment service with a reported 300 million registered users and an additional 100 million mobile clients. "We're going to talk about getting married later this week," Cook said. "We love to partner with people that are wicked smart, that have flexible teams, that are product-based, that push us, and we like to push them."

Apple Pay has had some success since it's Oct. 20 launch. The mobile wallet system activated more than a million credit cards in the first 72 hours. And, the Journal reported, it signed up the six biggest U.S. credit card companies—including American Express, Visa and MasterCard. 

But it's run into headwinds with retailers. CVS and Rite Aid discontinued Apple Pay because it is incompatible with their CurrentC mobile payment system. Cook called the move a "skirmish." 

Bringing Apple Pay to China could pose more challenges, since many consumers prefer cash transactions and many banks are state-owned. But the Journal reported China's cabinet is leaving the door ajar for foreign credit card companies to set up electronic payments between those banks and consumers.