B.C. startup catering to Alipay’s mobile food plans

Chinese e-payment giant eyes niche market in deal with food-ordering app developer

Chinese e-payment giant Ant Financial Services Group – better known as Alipay – is moving into Metro Vancouver’s mobile food market, linking up with local startup ClickDishes Inc. to enter three western Canadian cities.

The deal, which provides Alipay’s users (mostly Chinese students, visitors or recent immigrants) with ClickDishes’ food ordering services when they visit Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton, is the latest in an increasingly crowded market of mobile food service networks targeting Chinese audiences in the Lower Mainland.

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Alipay, however, is taking a more specific approach with ClickDishes. The service skips traditional delivery orders, bypassing the need for a fleet of drivers like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Chinese-Canadian startup Fantuan. Instead, Alipay will focus on ClickDishes’ existing base of “lunchtime consumers” – users who can order food at nearby restaurants for pickup at a designated time without having to wait in line to make a purchase.

“We are targeting people at work who have busy lifestyles, as well as restaurants who suffer from long waits during lunchtime and therefore are losing potential customers,” said ClickDishes co-founder Vicki Zhou, who first co-founded food-delivery app Nomme before selling the platform to DoorDash last year.

“When we operated Nomme, we found there was a gap in the market for quick-service, pickup restaurants,” Zhou said. “Because there are delivery apps, but in the daytime, there’s actually no one who will order delivery from the food court; they’ll just walk in and pick up.”

Within a span of less than two years, ClickDishes accumulated 300 vendors with a small team of 25 employees located in its three markets: Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. And when Alipay officially launched its open application programming interface  platform in North America late last year, in a bid to make it easier for Canadian and U.S. developers to create apps within Alipay’s mobile platform, ClickDishes jumped at the chance for more exposure to the app’s billion users worldwide.

“Chinese tourists are big spenders in Canada, so we want to introduce them to more popular local restaurants,” Zhou said. “Usually, Chinese tourists will rely on third-party apps to browse recommended restaurants. With Alipay’s app, users can with one click look at all the restaurants nearby that accept Alipay. So this deal with Alipay provides a sense of convenience and security for Chinese tourists visiting our three cities, while at the same time opening more doors for local vendors.”

Under the current setup, Alipay users who open the app on their mobile devices in Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton will see a ClickDishes section for food pick-up ordering. The users can then operate as they would normally in China, browsing the restaurants, ordering their meals with their Alipay accounts and finding the location for pickup, all without leaving the Alipay app itself.

“Alipay is the super-lifestyle app in China; everyone uses it for everything,” said Chenni Xu, North American corporate communications manager for Ant Financial. “You order food and hail taxis on the app. Your entire 24-hour day is on it. So we are trying to replicate that experience here, and this is one of the first North American mini-apps we’ve activated within Alipay … so that when you are in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary, it’s now very easy for Chinese students or visitors to go to those cities and get some of the experiences they would get in China.”

Xu added that Alipay isn’t finished – the goal is to flesh out the platform’s services here so it can come as close as it can to matching the services provided by the app in the Chinese market. The company is already working with a North American partner on a mini-app that allows users to rent a home over Alipay’s platform, Xu noted, although no additional details have been announced.

And while Alipay found Edmonton and Calgary to be interesting markets, the key for the company in the deal is reaching Vancouver, where many of Alipay’s million Canadian users are concentrated, Xu said.

“Our Vancouver office is very active in Richmond, which is not a coincidence because of the Chinese population in that area, similar to our focus in places like Los Angeles and Boston in the United States.”

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