The 3 million or so travelers from China who visit the U.S. each year will be able to use mobile payment app Alipay at 3,000 Walgreens in cities like New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas—with 4,000 additional U.S. locations expected to be added by April.
Walgreens joins Guess stores and the shops at San Francisco’s Pier 39—such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream—as the U.S. vendors accepting payments via Alipay’s mobile wallet. (According to Alipay’s figures, roughly 4 million of its 1 billion users are in the U.S. each year. However, despite studies that projected China to be the second-largest market for U.S. tourism by 2019, new reports say the trade war between Washington and Beijing is starting to diminish enthusiasm among business and leisure travelers from China.)
Alipay is an online payment service created by ecommerce giant Alibaba Group and run by its subsidiary, the fintech company Ant Financial. In addition to facilitating payments, it is what Alibaba calls a “lifestyle super app” used by more than 5 percent of the world’s population to find nearby retailers and restaurants, manage finances, split bills, pay utilities, transfer money, plan travel, hail taxis and book movie tickets and food deliveries. Outside China, it is also used in Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul.
The service is available in 40 countries. Merchant partners include other popular destinations for Chinese tourists like Germany’s Oktoberfest and the world’s largest gingerbread city in Norway.
Alipay says it is an appealing option for travelers from China as the service is widely used in their home country and, unlike credit cards, it does not have high foreign transaction fees.
In a statement, Yulei Wang, general manager of Alipay North America, said this relationship is a key strategic partnership for achieving awareness in the U.S.
The move comes after parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance added a flagship store to Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace in September. The direct-to-consumer channel complements its pre-existing wholesale and retail pharmacy business in China.