London-based foreign exchange services company Travelex is banking on a WeChat mini-program to help them capitalize on Chinese travelers visiting the U.S. by offering no-fee digital gift cards that will be redeemable at 50 retailers. Travelex Pay, which operates through the digital gifting platform Swych, will allow WeChat users to purchase gift cards to U.S. retailers and restaurants, thus avoiding foreign exchange fees that could otherwise tack on an additional 3-5 percent to purchases.
It’s no surprise that Travelex would want a greater share of Chinese travel spending, as they account for a fifth of global travel spending. And while they take more trips abroad, they are searching for more ways to go cashless and even avoid foreign transaction and exchange fees altogether. Of course, the luxury retailers that are most popular with Chinese tourists already accept Chinese mobile payment options, thus eliminating the need for another U.S. payment method.
With the new Travelex Pay mini-program, Chinese tourists in the U.S. will be able to go cashless at retailers that do not yet accept WeChat Pay or Alipay, and they could even purchase the gift card while standing in line. Of the list of businesses Jing Travel found on the mini-program, most are fashion retailers, although there are also numerous chain restaurants, online retailers, and even a few domestic airlines listed. While some of these businesses will be of interest to visitors, there are many others that would not be useful for short-term travelers. The plan, according to Swych, is to expand the list of businesses as the mini-program gains traction.
Chinese tourists in the U.S. on shopping trips could be interested in the gift cards for Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Sephora. There are even a few entertainment options available like Cirque du Soleil. Visitors are probably less interested in gift cards for eBay, Burger King, and Lowe’s during a trip to the U.S., yet some of those retail options might be of more interest to students staying in the country long-term who use their parents’ bank accounts in China.
While Travelex does not charge any additional fees for the program, it does require users to make minimum purchases, and their digital gift cards come in increments of $10, which means users will either have remaining funds in their account or will need cash to pay for purchases that are slightly above the gift card amount. The mini-program also assumes that participating retailers have both the ability and a knowledgeable enough staff to accept these digital payments.
As of now, there are no plans to expand Travelex Pay beyond the WeChat ecosystem, but Swych has not ruled out that option for the future. It is, however, looking at expanding the mini-program’s availability to other markets outside of the U.S. that Chinese travelers tend to favor.
Whether Chinese travelers will want to add another layer to their WeChat Pay experience with another mobile payment app within an already crowded ecosystem is debatable. It is more likely that travelers would use the mini-program if they were able to purchase digital gift cards for the exact amount of their purchases. On top of that, many tourists are unlikely to calculate sales tax while standing in line for purchases, which could cause frustration for users who buy their cards before seeing the total amount owed.