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ByteDance unveils payment service for China's version of TikTok

Short-video company targets e-commerce for growth, in defiance of leader Alipay

Users of Douyin recently discovered that they have been offered an additional payment option for in-app purchases, called Douyin Pay. (Source photos by AP and Getty Images) 

HONG KONG -- ByteDance, the operator of China's largest short-video platform, has quietly launched a payment service in a move to expand its e-commerce business.

Users of Douyin, ByteDance's Chinese version of TikTok, recently discovered that they have been offered an additional payment option for in-app purchases, called Douyin Pay, alongside the existing Alipay and WeChat Pay. The latter two are offered by, respectively, Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, and Tencent Holdings.

"The setup of Douyin Pay (Douyin Zhifu) is to supplement the existing major payment options, and to ultimately enhance user experience on Douyin," the Beijing-based company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The app interface shows that its payment service supports cash transfers with major banks, including Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of Communications and China Construction Bank.

Douyin's payment service is provided by Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology, which was acquired by ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming in September. That deal allowed ByteDance to obtain the valuable online payment license from Hezhong Yibao. Chinese regulators stopped issuing such licenses in 2016.

The launch of ByteDance's payment service comes at a time when China's bank regulators are tightening rules for online financial services offered by internet players, which culminated in the cancellation of Ant's blockbuster initial public offering in November. Also, many digital platforms have stopped selling online deposit products.

Currently, Douyin Pay enables only general bank card functions, such as cash withdrawals and transfers, as well as payments within its own Douyin app, a company spokesperson said. Other more complicated functions such as online lending, insurance policies and wealth management products are not supported currently.

Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate China's online payment market, and their smaller rivals often have to rely on the two services for most online transactions.

During big promotional campaigns like the annual Singles Day shopping festival in November, it is not uncommon for smaller platforms to experience system glitches because the two payment giants prioritize transactions on their own platforms. That has prompted companies such as Meituan, JD.com and Pinduoduo to launch their own payment services.

ByteDance also is looking into cutting its reliance on Alipay and WeChat Pay, as it grows its own e-commerce business. Online shopping in China shot up last year during the coronavirus pandemic, and brands are increasingly tapping into livestreaming to sell products. ByteDance, which so far counts advertising as its major revenue source, set up a separate business unit for e-commerce in June, and it has invested heavily to lure popular livestream hosts to its platform.

While unlisted ByteDance does not disclose sales figures, major rival Kuaishou Technology, which is seeking an IPO in Hong Kong, saw e-commerce transactions reached 94.5 billion yuan ($14.6 billion) in the third quarter last year, which nearly equaled sales for the first six months of the year.

The launch of ByteDance's payment service comes on the heels of state-run broadcaster CCTV dropping Pinduoduo as a key partner for its Chinese New Year gala, which has an audience of 1.2 billion people, for Douyin, Chinese media have reported. Pinduoduo is facing a public backlash due to its handling of a series of labor controversies.

Each year, CCTV selects one internet company to dispatch red packets containing random amounts of cash on its mobile app during the gala program, a rare opportunity for the tech partner to gain new users. WeChat, Alipay, Taobao, Kuaishou and Baidu have been the gala's partners in previous years.

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