February 17, 2015

Traditional Chinese red envelopes are a treasured feature of Chinese New Year. They’re given as gifts and filled with money. The practice is now going online and for the companies Tencent and Alibaba, the digital idea is the next big battleground for online payments. CCTV’s Timothy Pope filed this report from Shanghai.

Last year Tencent’s Wechat made the traditional red envelopes popular on the digital front with users sending out more than 20 million of them during the first two days of the New Year holiday, but this Chinese New Year the country’s biggest social network is pitted against the might of online giant Alibaba.

Tencent’s online payment service Tenpay has upwards of 200 million registered users, putting it behind Alibaba’s total of more than 300 million and they’re both spending big for the Year of the Sheep.

Alipay’s cash Hong Bao amount to 153 million yuan and their coupon Hong Bao amount to about 480 million yuan. Wechat is giving away 500 million yuan in cash Hong Bao and 3 billion yuan in coupons. This year the battle between the two giants started when Tencent blocked its Wechat users from sending Alipay’s virtual red envelopes. The fallout is being felt all over the country, including at Shanghai-based consultancy IAAPM China, where e-hongbao have become a popular feature of the holiday season around the office.

“We give out hongbao almost every day in our staff Wechat group and see who can grab them the fastest.” Jessica Xu, finance officer at IAAPM China said.

“This year I prefer to use Wechat hongbao to Alipay’s. With Alipay Hong Bao whoever gets the Hong Bao will have to import a keyword, password on Alipay in order to get the money. Both my friends and I find it a bit of a hassle to do that.” Ariel Hui Wang, marketing manger at IAAPM China said.

Aside from being a fun adaptation of an honored Chinese tradition, it’s also a great way to get new users to sign up to an online payment platform. You might not sign up to spend money, but you’d certainly sign up to receive it.

CCTV’s Timothy Pope gathered information for this report in Shanghai, China.

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