Is Palm Payment The Future? How WeChat’s New Service Could Revolutionize Retail In China

What Happened: Already freed from carrying wallets, Chinese citizens can now also leave their phones at home. On May 21, Tencent’s WeChat Pay rolled out a new “palm payment” method, whereby users can complete an entire transaction with a simple “wave” of their hand. 

According to Tencent, the technology — developed by the YouTu artificial intelligence lab — relies on recognizing surface-level palm prints and the hands’ veins. In the statement, the company says that the latest payment method aims to improve efficiency and greatly simplify the user experience, which it notes could be helpful for the elderly and people living with disabilities.

The service is available only to residents in mainland China who have completed identity verification and it can be used in designated metro stations. But the tech giant has bigger ambitions — it is gradually rolling out palm payments at offices, campuses, retail outlets, and restaurants.

On May 21, Tencent’s WeChat Pay rolled out a new “palm payment” method, whereby users can complete an entire transaction with a simple “wave” of their hand. Image: Weibo screenshot

The Jing Take: The release of the automatic palm payment has generated excitement online. Netizens have been actively discussing the pros and cons of the new transaction method on China’s microblogging platform Weibo. Thus far, the hashtag #WeChatpalmpaymentrelease has garnered 7.15 million views, and is topping Weibo’s Hot Search List. 

However, some are skeptical about the new payment method. Weibo user @liuguangruoshi asks: “Aren’t face scanning, fingerprint, and digital passwords not enough? Why do we want to use palms now?” 

Some tech bloggers, such as @techfuit, have said that palm prints are more private than other biometric identifications and faster, but warn that improved convenience may hurt consumers’ wallets. ​​

According to Tencent, the system involves the collection, processing, and storing of information on users’ palms and veins. It says it will delete the original samples and pictures of users’ palms once the required information has been extracted. Consumers’ willingness to divulge more personal information is yet to be seen.

The palm print payment method can be linked with fitness memberships, cinema tickets, travel cards, and more. Image: WeChat screenshot

Arch WeChat Pay rival Alibaba Alipay is also working on palm payments, media outlet Tech Planet reports. As the two combined account for more than 90 percent of Mainland China’s mobile payments market, palm payments are likely to become a transaction fixture. 

The palm print payment method can be linked with fitness memberships, cinema tickets, travel cards, and more. In light of this, luxury brands targeting young consumers in China should keep palm payments on their radar as the service expands. 

For maisons, palm print tech could enable boutiques to more easily identify clients, their worldwide transaction record, VIC status, and preferences, hence better positioning businesses to provide hyper-personalized shopping experiences. Additionally, the tech reduces the risk of abandoned transactions because a potential consumer forgot their wallet or phone, or their device has run out of power. 

Keeping it old-school won’t work with the younger generations of shoppers. Even for high-ticket items, speedier, more convenient transaction processes will likely prevail over traditional payment methods.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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