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Chinese swipe smartphones for almost everything


If you chose to do so, you could live in Shanghai without carrying anything so plebeian as cash (or even credit cards). Chinese consumers can (and do) swipe smartphones for almost everything.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner? With a wave of the iPhone wand, it arrives on a motorbike, delivered often for free and usually at a discounted price, from food delivery apps such as Ele.me (meaning "are you hungry?"). Wave it again, and a taxi appears, ready to offer a discounted ride. Wave it once more, and there's a doctor ready to diagnose any ailment by phone for only Rmb9.9 ($1.5) per call.


It's called O2O, or "online to offline", and is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 63 per cent between now and 2017, to Rmb42bn, according to Credit Suisse. The marriage of online and offline will soon come even to that most traditional of venues, the neighborhood wet market, where Shanghainese will be able to swipe a phone to buy anything from a haircut to a tooth extraction to a fish head for supper.


A wet market in Wenzhou, in eastern Zhejiang province, has already started letting consumers wave their mobile phones at all of its goodies, and pay with Alipay, the mobile payments service affiliated to ecommerce group Alibaba. Shanghai plans to follow suit, at which point I will be able to load up on a bucket of eels or a leg of pork (with hoof attached) without pulling out my purse.


Personally, I still prefer grimy, germ-laden piles of Rmb100 notes with the face of Mao Zedong on them for most of my shopping. But hardly anyone else does (or at least hardly anyone middle class and under 40). At the government-subsidised Loving Help breakfast cart near Shanghai's People's Square, men in suits queue up during morning rush hour to swipe their smartphones for a steamed bun or a shouzhuabing, a delectably greasy Chinese-style crepe that literally translates as "hand-grab pancake". I'm all for that: I prefer it if the hand grabber of that pancake to serve it to me has not just been handling a wad of the people's currency (with all the people's bacteria on it).


Outside a nearby office building, an Ele.me delivery man squats next to a blue insulated cooler bag, from which he dispenses 30-odd breakfasts — ordered in advance by people presumably working so hard to keep the slowing economy afloat that they do not have time to walk two minutes to the nearest fast-food emporium.


Lunch is, if anything, even easier: in the bowels of the same building is a vending machine called the Fun Box dispensing app-ordered meals paid for by smartphone.

如果说午餐有什么不同的话,那就是更方便一些:在同一幢大楼里有一个被称为“Fun Box”的自动售卖机,消费者可以在售卖机自取通过APP预订并付费的午餐。

Dinner? Even the local greasy chopstick accepts payment by swipe-phone. Zhou Lijuan, 29, an accountant at a Shanghai state-owned enterprise, says she hardly ever carries cash any more. "Sometimes Rmb1,000 in cash can stay in my purse for months."



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