Singapore Builds Blockchain Payments Platform

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In this edition of Weekly Focus APAC: Singapore Builds Blockchain Multi-Currency Payments Platform; Alipay & WePay Now Open to Foreign Visitors; Chinese Shoppers Make 1M Orders via Smart Speakers; JD.com Opens Chongqing Store Offering ‘Immersive’ Experience; and Accor Hotels Look to Improve Traveller Experience with Alibaba Partnership.

Singapore Builds Blockchain Multi-Currency Payments Platform

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has developed a blockchain-based platform capable of processing different currencies on the same network.

Built in collaboration with J.P. Morgan and Temasek Holdings, the prototype network had the potential to improve cost efficiencies for businesses, the partners said in a joint statement. Tests currently were being run in the industry to ascertain its commercial viability and ability to integrate with commercial blockchain applications.

The latest development was part of MAS’s Project Ubin initiative, now in its fifth phase, which aimed to provide a payments network that could connect and integrate seamlessly with other blockchain networks. The platform also would offer other features to facilitate use cases such as delivery-versus-payment settlement with private exchanges, conditional payments and escrow for trade, and payment commitments for trade finance.

To date, MAS and its partners had roped in more than 40 financial and non-financial firms to explore the potential benefits of the payments network.

Temasek’s president and COO Chia Song Hwee said: “Blockchain technology has great potential in transforming businesses and opening up new business opportunities… The inclusion of non-financial services companies has demonstrated applicability of blockchain technology beyond capital markets and trade finance.”

Alipay & WeChat Pay Now Open to Foreign Visitors

Both Alibaba and Tencent now have made their respective e-wallets, Alipay and Wechat Pay, available to foreign visitors to China.

Tencent said it partnered Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Global Network–including Diners Club–and JCB to allow travellers to link their credit cards to WeChat Pay, so the e-wallet could be used to pay for goods and services in China.

Alipay, for the first time, also can be accessed by international travellers in China who can download and use the app–on Google Play Store and Apple App Store–during their visit to the mainland.

They will need to register using their overseas phone number, a valid visa, and their foreign credit or debit card to sign up for Alipay’s Tour Pass function. With this, they can top up the e-wallet with value of up to ¥2,000 (£221.64) and use this to pay for various services including ride-sharing trips, train tickets, and hotel bookings.

Access to Tour Pass expires after three months, after which any leftover funds will be refunded.

Previously, foreign visitors were unable to use Alipay as access to the e-wallet required a local phone number and Chinese bank account.

Chinese Shoppers Make 1M Orders via Smart Speakers

More than 1 million orders have been placed and paid for via Alibaba’s Tmall Genie during the November 11 online shopping festival, with Chinese shoppers opting to use the smart speaker’s voice-shopping function–rather than their smartphone–to make their purchase.

These consumers used Tmall Genie to buy a wide range of products including 810,000 eggs, 1.4 million tons of rice, and 76 tons of liquid detergent.

To place an order, shoppers had to say “Tmall Genie, I want to buy some eggs” to the smart speaker, which then would recommend products from which consumers could choose. When orders were confirmed, they would be processed using Alibaba’s e-wallet Alipay.

To date, the Chinese e-commerce giant, said more than 40% of Tmall Genie users had used its voice-shopping feature.

Alibaba’s general manager of A.I. Labs, Miffy Chen, said: “We hope the use of a virtual assistant will help people across age groups to embrace a digital life that is simple, fun, informed, and connected.”

Tmall Genie currently was connected to 235 million home appliances from 900 brands, including lights, heaters, and air purifiers, said A.I. Labs, which developed the device. Chen said there were plans to add more features in areas such as in-car infotainment, food delivery, and education.

JD.com Opens Chongqing Store Offering ‘Immersive’ Experience

The Chinese e-commerce operator has opened a 50,000-square metre retail outlet in Chongqing, China, touted to offer “immersive” experience that allows shoppers to interact with smart products from more than 1,000 global brands.

Called JD E-Space, the retail site featured the online platform’s top-selling products across categories such as electronics, home appliances, fitness, and beauty products.

It also featured various “brand experience zones”, including Apple’s largest authorised offline experience store, Microsoft’s first future smart home experience area, and GE’s first omnichannel home appliances store in China.

According to JD.com, shoppers would be able to experience and test the product in-store, then choose to purchase it online.

JD Home Appliances’ head of offline business Yang Zisheng said: “JD’s boundaryless retail strategy integrates online and offline retail, enabling customers to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. Equipped with the most advanced technologies and state-of-the art products, JD E-Space provides consumers not only shopping convenience, but also an immersive and interactive experience.”

Accor Hotels Look to Improve Traveller Experience with Alibaba Partnership

International hospitality group Accor has inked a five-year partnership with Alibaba Group to develop online applications and loyalty programmes aimed at enhancing consumer and traveller experience.

The alliance would pave the way for “seamless integration” between Accor’s customer journey with Alibaba’s ecosystem, the partners said.

Accor, for instance, would provide Chinese visitors an enhanced hotel experience through its “Haoke” initiative, which was a certification programme to ensure its hotels were ready to welcome Chinese guests by incorporating the Chinese language, Chinese dishes on menus, and other services and payment options that catered to Chinese travellers.

Alibaba’s travel unit Fliggy also would enable consumers to book hotels, access catering services, and book entertainment, amongst other services.

This partnership would be integral to the deployment of Accor’s upcoming lifestyle loyalty programme, Accor Live Limitless (ALL), which services and benefits would be made available to Alibaba’s customer base.

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