With the recently past Lunar new year we saw a growing trend towards the modern. Amidst all the other traditional festivities, China’s WeChat users sent each other an astonishing 1.01 billion digital red envelopes.

The virtual red envelopes stuffed with actual cash, which mirror a long-held gift-giving tradition at Chinese New Year, are a growing trend in China as people make more use of online payment methods.

The 1.01 billion tally of WeChat hong bao represents stratospheric growth from last year’s number, when WeChat users sent only 20 million to each other.

Why the huge growth this year? Aside from even more marketing and buzz related to giving such gifts online, the main driver was how Chinese state TV’s must-watch Spring Festival Gala show- broadcast every Chinese New Year’s Eve- used WeChat to give away US$80 million in money packed in virtual red envelopes provided by corporate sponsors. That promotion called on viewers to shake the WeChat app on their phones at allotted times in order to have a chance of winning some of the cash. Tencent revealed today that the TV show triggered a total of 11 billion shakes, reaching a peak at 10:34pm with 810 million shakes per minute.

WeChat-cash-giveaway-on-Chinese-TV-photo-3But Wechat was not the only company vying for red envelope action, Alibaba also allowed users of its Alipay payment service to give and receive red envelopes online, yet the feature was not nearly as popular as WeChat’s. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s chairman, said this setback was his firm’s “Pearl Harbor moment” and called for better defense of what has been viewed as Alipay’s territory – mobile money transfers.

Perhaps lacking a bit of holiday spirit, the feature did not allow Alipay users to send hongbao to WeChat or QQ, the messaging and gaming service that Tencent cut its teeth with. This prompted users to complain and in response, Alibaba made some changes, offering links to WeChat and QQ on February 2.

Then it was Tencent delivered an equally grumpy reply: It blocked the links to both platforms right away. Efforts to send an Alipay hongbao to WeChat led to a page reading: “The content you’re sharing has a safety hazard.” Slippery then removed any links connecting with WeChat.

The war between the two tech giants seems to only be growing and forcing consumers to chose one company for all their banking, shopping and messaging needs– which has the potential to be deadly to both.

Read more about the digital Hongbao from Tech In Asia here and more about the Alibaba Vs. Wechat  war from Caixin here.

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