While it’s still early days, China’s m-commerce market (read: consumers shopping for things other than ringtones, games and porn with their mobile phones) is gathering momentum. More mainlanders are buying smartphones, network data-transmission speeds are improving, and there’s plenty of potential buyers. The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) estimates that the number of Chinese surfing the Web by mobile phone jumped 29.6 percent last year to 303 million, compared with China’s total online population of 457 million.
What’s far from clear is which companies will emerge as m-commerce market leaders. Consumers have lots of choices when it comes to phone operating systems, mobile Web browsers, mobile shopping portals and mobile e-payment services.In a fragmented market, winners and losers may ultimately be determined by industry alliances and partnerships.
For example, this week a couple of major players announced a tie-up geared to making it easier and safer to pay for products via mobile phones. UC Mobile, which according to market research firm Analysys International offers China’s leading mobile Web browser, unveiled a new version of its software that supports a mobile plug-in from Alipay, the country’s largest independent e-payment service. In a story in the Global Times, UC Mobile CEO Yu Yongfu noted an interesting aspect of this move: the UC Mobile-Alipay combo for the first time will allow in-app payment via phone, meaning fewer steps in the currently complex online transaction process. It’s also said to more secure. Because users don’t have to switch among shopping and banking websites to complete deals, there are fewer opportunities for scammers to infiltrate transactions via phishing websites.
Because UC Mobile and Alipay are dominant in their fields, their cooperation could have a big impact on the mobile payment industry, Analysys International researcher Zhang Meng told the Global Times. But like we said, it’s still early days. The latest UC Mobile browser is currently available only for phones running the Android and Symbian operating systems, so large chunks of the wireless surfer population won’t be able to use it. For now. Versions for iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry are expected in the second half of the year.