RiverPay connects global merchants to Chinese shoppers

While you may not have heard of RiverPay, if you are Chinese visitor to North America or a business owner hoping to attract them, you might already be benefiting from its technology, cofounder and CEO Ryan Zheng said.

“RiverPay is a fintech startup with a focus on the Chinese consumer market,” he began. “We are an integrated payment and marketing platform to connect the Chinese consumer with global merchants.”

RiverPay simplifies spending for Chinese consumers in North America by letting them pay with the brands they use at home. Alipay, WeChat and UnionPay are all available on RiverPay, and  those three essentially have the entire Chinese market sewn up.

It’s a big market. According to data from Nielsen, Chinese tourists spent $261.1 billion worldwide in 2016, with 25 percent of that being dropped in North America. And they tend to spend more than tourists from elsewhere, with the average Chinese tourist spending $762 compared to $486 for non-Chinese travelers. Beyond tourists, business travelers and overseas students also use the service.

Most of the spend, 65 percent, is completed on mobile, Mr. Zheng said, and if merchants correctly position themselves they can attract more of that activity. RiverPay helps them by providing marketing assistance connecting them with Chinese tourists through social media, mobile apps and gift cards. Merchants who accept Alipay, WeChat and UnionPay are added to a list so app users know which nearby stores accept those payment methods. They can also offer special deals to attract more visitors.

“We guarantee the merchant if the person is Chinese we can reach out to them,” Mr. Zheng said. “Merchants see a year-over-year, double digit percentage increase in spending from Chinese tourists.”

Part of RiverPay’s success is due to developing conversion technology allowing users to spend Chinese currency, not the currency of the country they are visiting, Mr. Zheng said. The Chinese government places annual currency conversion limits on their citizens that come with heavy fees for overspending, but because of the technology allowing them to spend RMB that restriction does not apply. That helps tourists and people wishing to send gifts to loved ones abroad. 

Ryan Zheng

“For example, on Chinese New Year, parents can send gifts to their children even if they don’t have US or Canadian dollars,” Mr. Zheng said. “They can use our platform to send gifts from any of our supported stores and students can use them right away.”

What puts RiverPay ahead is its focus on technology, Mr. Zheng said. With the Chinese apps reliant on barcodes, RiverPay had to develop a method where North American merchants could capture the barcodes from smartphones without needing a PIN or chip. The process must be PCI compliant throughout. Quite the trick considering integrating dozens of brands could have taken a decade or more.

“We did it in two years by aggressively spending resources on tech integrations and buying IP,” Mr. Zheng said. “We’re more of a tech-focused company amongst our peers.”

Most brands that have signed on with RiverPay have strong awareness with Chinese consumers, Mr. Zheng said. The sell is pretty straightforward, as it is easy to show merchants what percentage of their revenue is generated by Chinese patrons.

“Merchants really love seeing that,” Mr. Zheng said. “We can make that percentage much happier and increase their spend by making it much more convenient and allowing unlimited spending at the best possible exchange rate on the market.”

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