Why China’s WeChat Is Paying South Africans To Eat At McDonald’s

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat is trying to grow customers in South Africa by collaborating with large merchants like McDonald’s, allowing customers to pay for meals using mobile payments.

WeChat recently partnered with McDonald’s South Africa — the local version of the American hamburger and fast food chain — to pilot the service, integrating QR code scanners into point-of-sale systems at a handful of restaurants in Johannesburg and Cape Town, according to How We Made It In Africa.

WeChat already has smaller merchants online that can receive payments via its mobile wallet, said Brett Loubser, CEO of WeChat Africa, in an interview with How we made it in Africa. “We also want to get it into the bigger merchants and companies and show that we have the ability to process transactions at very high volumes for big retailers,” he said.

McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in South Africa in 1995 and now has more than 200 restaurants there. It serves over 8 million customers a month, according to McDonald’s country website.

In a market largely dominated by messaging competitor Facebook-owned WhatsApp, WeChat Africa wants to be more than instant messaging.

WhatsApp South Africa ranked highest in the world for WhatsApp adoption rates by the end of 2014, according to Statista.com. That compared with an 8 percent penetration rate in the U.S.

WeChat wants to be a one-stop-shop mobile platform in Africa that allows users to transfer money, book doctor’s appointments and invest in the stock market, amongst other things, just like in China.

WeChat started offering in-store payments at Chinese merchants in September 2014. More than 200 million customers have since added their bank cards to its QQ Wallet and Weixin Pay mobile payment platforms, NFC World reported.

WeChat is a joint venture between Chinese internet firm Tencent and South African media giant Naspers.

Payments by mobile phone have been slow to catch on in South Africa compared to some other African countries. In Kenya, over 70 percent of people use M-Pesa, which failed to make inroads in South Africa.

WeChat’s mobile payments solution is different to M-Pesa’s, Loubser said. For example, M-Pesa targets people without bank accounts. WeChat Wallet wants to integrate bank cards into mobile payments. Its platforms let merchants interact with customers after they have left the store.

To sweeten the launch of Quick Pay, WeChat is giving the first 20,000 McDonald’s customers 50 percent cash back when using the service to pay for their meal, NFC World reported.

“We are continuously searching for innovative ways to enhance our customers’ experience,” said Daniel Padiachy, chief marketing officer at McDonald’s South Africa. “We believe that WeChat’s Quick Pay will further assist us in upholding these principles.

WeChat partnered with Naspers-owned MultiChoice, a leading African pay-TV player, to let South African viewers vote on TV shows such as “Idols” and “The Voice,” according to How We Made It In Africa. Users of South African internet-based radio station CliffCentral can stream and interact with the show through the app. WeChat Africa also partnered with local startups such as micro-job search platform M4JAM.

Its mobile wallet was launched in late 2015 through a partnership with South African lender Standard Bank. Loubser won’t say how many WeChat Wallet users it has in South Africa, but it’s more than 10,000.