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The success of on-demand ride hailing app Uber in the recent years has facilitated the birth of the gig economy, where temporary, flexible jobs are common and businesses hire contractors to perform ad hoc tasks.

While companies used to hire more workers to get through peak periods, the gig economy model allows them to bring in additional temps when there is demand and cut costs.

That is what Helpster, a Thailand-based on-demand staffing platform, is doing – connecting companies with blue collar workers when they need extra hands. ecommerceIQ sat down with the startup’s CEO and co-founder Mathew Ward to talk about the ins and outs of his business.

Building a LinkedIn for blue collar workers

“There are still plenty of people looking for jobs and businesses who always need employees, but connectivity is the problem. If we talk with small business owners, finding and keeping staff is what keeps them up at night. People are always willing to pay for solutions to their pain points,” Mathew explains the business rationale behind Helpster.

Helpster was founded in October 2015 by Mathew and John Srivorakul, the CTO of the startup, as a platform that would connect customers with repair and cleaning service providers through its app.

It has now turned into a curated marketplace that matches blue collar workers seeking a job with businesses in industries with high demand for temporary staff such as restaurants, retail, and event management.

Helpster founders

Helpster started as a B2C platform for hiring handymen services, but soon realized this business model had low frequency. The company shifted focus to B2B market three months into operations.

“The problem we found with the on-demand home services market is that there is limited frequency. When was the last time you called a plumber? The acquisition costs for consumers are high, and it takes too long to get that investment back,” says Mathew.

Realizing this, Helpster started pitching their platform to businesses instead. In the new business-to-business (B2B) model the team saw that companies needed not just handymen, but also waiters and warehouse workers. The real challenge was access to labor – how could they quickly hire blue collar workers?

Filling in temp jobs typically have two options – job boards or agencies. Job boards comprise of applicants of which 95% are not relevant for the business and majority of blue collar workers don’t have a resume or an email. “They don’t use traditional job boards – they generally find jobs through word-of-mouth, making it difficult for businesses to find them quickly,” explains Mathew.

Agencies are good at providing quality staff, but at a high cost, slow pace and workers usually come with constrictive contracts. If a business wanted to hire the worker after his/her temporary stint, the company would be subject to an agency fee.

So where does Helpster fit? The platform enables workers to create a simple profile listing their skills and previous experience, what they would like to do and how much they would like to earn. In a way, blue collar workers create their resume on the Helpster platform.

In the meantime, companies looking for hires send Helpster jobs requests and a description of their needs. The platform then matches job opportunities to available workers with the right skill set, and assigns them to the job in minutes.

Same, same, but different

At first, Helpster’s business seems similar to startups such as ServisHero or Kaodim that connect consumers with different home service providers – electricians, plumbers, movers and others – but how often are their services really needed in a year?

Helpster differentiates itself by focusing on businesses that frequently need temp staff, for example, the food and hospitality industry. Caterers, waiters and kitchen staff are always in demand for year-round engagements such as weddings, birthday parties, pop-up markets, etc.

Besides job requests from food & beverage and hospitality companies, promotional consultants who help staff pop-up booths in shopping malls or hand out flyers are another popular category of vacancies. Helpster also staffs telephone sales and warehouse operations.

“When we need extra waiters for catering events, I use Helpster to find them. It’s the only company I know that offers such a service and we use them quite regularly,” says Una Plaude, partner at Luka café in Bangkok.

Helpster started its operations in Thailand where the unemployment rate in 2016 was around 1%, making it no surprise that hiring and retaining staff were impacting business growth. The company also recently expanded into Jakarta, Indonesia because both countries contained businesses with 20-30% staff turnover.

Blue collar workers, on the other hand, usually earn around $10 a day and live hand to mouth. This makes having quick access to suitable jobs important because majority of them don’t have savings. Helpster works to turn their problems into one another’s solution.

But the company won’t be alone in its quest for long. Rocket Internet’s Ushift, recently launched a similar service in the on-demand staffing market in Singapore with ambitions to expand to other countries.

“If you have a good idea, there will always be competitors. I actually would be worried if there were none because that would mean nobody else thinks it’s a decent business. It shows opportunity if a company like Rocket is willing to enter this space,” says Mathew.

The company at present is offering its service for free, but will soon be introducing a subscription model by charging a flat monthly fee for businesses to access its worker network. While the fee has not yet been set, Mathew said it will be below other traditional recruitment channels such as job boards to remain competitive.

Dealing with uncontrollable factors

A good business idea doesn’t mean challenges aren’t involved.

The company is not simply selling apples and oranges, they are selling a service – the promise that an employee will show up and do their job diligently.

And this reveals a cold, hard reality.

“Businesses can do all the screening possible but if a worker can’t be bothered to get out of the bed because of the rain or traffic, there’s nothing they can do,” says Mathew.

Helpster tries to solve this by giving temporary workers a rating that increases with the number of jobs they take and complete satisfactorily through the app.

To ensure that businesses are sent qualified staff, Helpster curates the workers by doing background checks on those who register on the platform. “When we first started, we made everyone come in for face-to-face interviews and criminal background checks. But that doesn’t always give insights into someone’s reliability. Performance ratings and engagement data is a much better indicator,” explains Mathew.

Helpster also learned that the location of the job is very important for blue collar workers. They’ll be happy to work down the street if they can earn 350 – 400 baht ($10 – $11) a day but less likely to travel, buy lunch to work a job across the city for the same amount.

So, how does Helpster acquire its network of workers?

“We try everything. We obviously have a digital strategy, but it’s critical for us to have a good ground game. Get out to the market and meet the people. A lot of our acquisition strategy revolves actively targeting workers around their places of work,” Mathew reveals.

Helpster recruits workers

Helpster goes on roadshows to universities, schools to attract young, tech savvy job seekers to their platform.

This strategy seems to be working. Over 80,000 workers and more than 3,000 companies have registered on the app so far and the company expects that number to grow considerably now they have launched in Jakarta.

Using data to make small changes for big impact

Helpster believes in using data to understand “what tweaks move the needle”. The company tracks which worker acquisition channels drive registration on the platform and if they lead to successful job applicants.

It was data that revealed that there can be such a thing as too many jobs on the platform.

Early on, Helpster was actively onboarding businesses to post their jobs on the platform, yet they noticed that a blue collar worker might take only 10 jobs a month even if he sees 100 job applications. They realized they needed to balance the supply of jobs with the actual demand from the workers to ensure a positive experience for businesses who needed temp staff quickly.

“Like any marketplace, balancing the levels of supply and demand are critical. Too much of one, and you will see high rates of churn. It can be a fine balance,” says Mathew.

Helpster can also forecast what parts of Bangkok on certain days will have high demand for a particular type of workers. For example, restaurants and bars in Sukhumvit road area look for extra hands during busy weekends.

Mathew says that 85% of the jobs are filled within 4 hours.

What’s next?

In November 2016, Helpster raised $2.1 million in Series A funding to expand across Southeast Asia. Now for three months, the startup has been present in Jakarta where 15,000 workers have signed up the platform. But the company is not planning to expand any more at the moment.

“Too many companies make the mistake of expanding too quickly. Blue collar worker wages in Southeast Asia make up around $200 billion per year, half of that is in sectors we’re focused on and 40% of workers are on informal employment contracts. Thailand and Indonesia are 60% of Southeast Asia so if we nail these two markets, we’re in a good position,” says Mathew.

Helpster team

He is not worried about the current downfall of certain on-demand startups seen globally since last year.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the idea to access things on demand. We’re focused on solving problems for businesses and for which they are willing to pay a premium,” says Mathew.

 

By Aija Krutaine

While president-elect Donald Trump is working hard to stop China from becoming a global superpower, China hasn’t slowed its digital hegemony in Southeast Asia – China meaning Alibaba of course. After calling out Southeast Asia as being on the cusp of an ecommerce golden age in our 2015 trends edition, Jack Ma and his team swooped in four months later and picked up Lazada, the region’s leading ecommerce marketplace, for a crisp $1 billion.

The Lazada-Alibaba deal, Alibaba’s largest overseas acquisition to date, is a pivotal event for Southeast Asia as its implications span the entire commerce value chain from digital advertising, logistics, finance, insurance to even healthcare.

A look back at 2016

Even without the Lazada deal, this year still proved eventful for ecommerce in the region: Fast-fashion fizzled out and Rocket Internet’s Zalora ending up selling for peanuts to Thai retail conglomerate Central Group.

Singpost’s headaches continued after the sudden removal of its Group CEO Wolfgang Baier in 2015, the company also lost its COO, CFO and the group’s chairman stepped down amidst a corporate governance scandal. These events pushed back the company’s deal with Alibaba a third time and wasn’t closed until October.

Across the region, asset-heavy B2C ecommerce suffered. Singapore homegrown RedMart was acquired by Lazada after it couldn’t bleed anymore money and Ascend Group’s iTruemart shut down in the Philippines only a few months after boasting to become the first Thai regional ecommerce player by 2017.

Japan’s ecommerce juggernaut Rakuten withdrew from Southeast Asia and sold its Thailand business back to the original founder. Moxy moved away from traditional mass ecommerce while merging with Indonesia’s Bilna to become Orami, a female-focused content and commerce play that raised funding from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Borrowing Jack Ma’s terminology, if 2016 was the appetizer, then 2017 will be the main course for ecommerce in Southeast Asia. With a $238 billion grand prize and Amazon poised to enter Singapore in Q1, it’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.

Game on.

1. The giant finally awakens: Alibaba becomes more active post-Lazada acquisition

Arguably the biggest ecommerce milestone in Southeast Asia this year was Alibaba’s $1 billion acquisition of Lazada but not much action has taken place at surface level since the deal. That is slowly changing already and Alibaba will soon introduce its entire ecommerce ecosystem to Southeast Asia in the coming year. It consists of Ant Financial, Cainiao and the Taobao Partner (TP) program just to name a few.

Launched in China seven years ago, the TP program aims to enroll suppliers to provide ecommerce related services to Taobao’s merchants. TPs such as Baozun and Lili & Beauty offered store operations and fulfillment services that enabled Taobao and Tmall to grow into two of the biggest ecommerce platforms in China.

The imminent launch of a similar program in Southeast Asia (ahem, Lazada Partners?) will create ample opportunities for an entire ecosystem ranging from digital agencies to delivery companies. Full-service ecommerce enablers such as aCommerce and SP eCommerce are well-positioned to further grow the $238 billion Southeast Asian ecommerce opportunity.

2. Last-mile logistics will get commoditized, accelerated by Alibaba’s Cainiao Network

Logistics is often considered the biggest bottleneck to ecommerce growth in Southeast Asia and has therefore resulted in plenty of venture capital funding spawning an army of last-mile and on-demand delivery startups such as Ninja Van, Ascend Group’s Sendit and Skootar. Even cab and bike hailing apps like Go-Jek and Grab have tapped into delivery services as an additional revenue stream. All this has added pressure to incumbents like Kerry Logistics, DHL and JNE who are only scratching the surface in the fast-paced ecommerce logistics space.

This nascent, fragmented and hyper-competitive ecosystem is similar to that of China a decade ago and what spurred Alibaba to launch Cainiao Network, an open platform that aggregates all last-mile vendors. This asset-light approach addressed Alibaba’s weakest link—logistics—and enables the company to leverage its massive demand to control the conversation.

Over 70% of business for third-party logistics (3PLs) in China now come from ecommerce of which Alibaba drives the vast majority. This allows them to set industry standards and increase price competition among last-mile providers, essentially turning the latter into a race-to-the-bottom, commodity play.

Alibaba has already begun bringing in Alipay and Ant Financial and with Southeast Asia’s logistics ecosystem following China’s trajectory, the introduction of Cainiao Network is only a matter of time.

Cainiao Network is Alibaba’s missing piece of the puzzle to control the entire ecommerce value chain – Cainiao Network Business Model

2017 ecommerce trends

3. The battle for “first-mile”: New threats to Google and Facebook

Few people realize that ecommerce giants like Alibaba and Amazon aren’t only a threat to their direct competitors such as JD and Wal-Mart but also to the likes of Baidu and Google.

With product searches increasingly moving off search engines and directly on to ecommerce sites, Alibaba and Amazon are shaking up internet advertising. In the US, 55% of people now start product searches on Amazon, up from 44% in 2015. This is a big deal because product searches are one of the most lucrative search keyword categories commanding high cost-per-clicks.

In China, the rivalry between Alibaba and Baidu has led the former to block Baidu’s search engine spiders from crawling and indexing Alibaba’s pages since 2009, effectively preventing users from going to Baidu to search for products.

Expect this battle for “first-mile” to kick off in 2017 in Southeast Asia when Alibaba migrates Lazada over to its Tmall platform and introduces Alimama, its proprietary self-service ad platform similar to Google Adwords.

Merchants on Lazada will have access to a variety of PPC (Pay-Per-Click), CPM (Cost-Per-Thousand Impressions) and CPS (Cost-Per-Sale) based advertising such as Tmall’s P4P “Express Train” PPC search ads. These ads command an impressive 25% of China’s total online search traditionally dominated by Baidu. To give an idea of Alibaba’s progress in search advertising, Google China’s search ad market share peaked at 30% before throwing in the towel and exiting the Chinese market.

Alibaba’s ad business is more than just search. In addition to Alimama, it also operates an affiliate platform called Taobao Affiliate Network, a display ad network called TANX (Taobao Ad Network and Exchange) as well as a Data Management Platform that rivals Oracle’s Bluekai and Adobe’s Audience Manager.

Media companies better brace themselves for new competition and digital agencies should start learning how to buy and optimize media on the Lazada platform in 2017.

4. Alipay’s entrance into Southeast Asia will drive consolidations in the online payments sector

The new year will mark the beginning of consolidation in the payments space in Southeast Asia. Cash-on-delivery (COD) dominance—75% of ecommerce transactions in the region—has inspired a plethora of startups like Omise and DOKU and established telcos and banks to build the next PayPal.

But most of these initiatives don’t address the core of the issue—lack of credit card penetration and a large population of unbanked in Southeast Asia. For example, LINE Pay, the Apple Pay-esque solution from one of Southeast Asia’s most popular messaging apps, only works with credit cards. While great from a PR perspective, these initiatives have yet to shift consumers away from COD.

Majority of fintech ‘solutions’ have been created to do “technology for technology’s sake”— building a faster car when what is really lacking are more roads.

Lacking what’s most important—scalable distribution channels—we expect these payment companies to struggle throughout 2017. With Lazada, Alibaba pulled off the ultimate trojan horse strategy to bring in Alipay and Ant Financial into the region. The marketplace offers a massive user base and distribution channel that most Southeast Asian payment startups envy.

2017 ecommerce trends

5. “Ecommerce 1.0” to “Ecommerce 2.0”

As previously predicted, Rocket Internet’s Zalora had to sell its Thailand and Vietnam businesses for chump change to local retailer Central Group. This same year, Cdiscount Thailand, part of French retail conglomerate Groupe Casino, was sold for $31.5 million to TCC, a local Thai company that also owns popular beer brand Chang.

Alibaba’s presence and the rumored Amazon launch in Singapore in Q1 2017 closes the window of opportunity for “Ecommerce 1.0” plays—those that peddle other people’s products to a mass audience. Even MatahariMall, the “anti-Lazada” ecommerce initiative launched by Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group, has re-positioned itself as an online-to-offline ecommerce play rather than a direct competitor to Lazada.

As we enter 2017, the opportunity in ecommerce will increasingly shift from “Ecommerce 1.0” towards “Ecommerce 2.0” where firms will base their competitive advantage not on traditional economies of scale but on a mix of what Bonobos’ founder Andy Dunn calls proprietary pricing, selection, experience, and merchandise.

Whereas Ecommerce 1.0 is a game of brute force and strength, Ecommerce 2.0 exploits 1.0 loopholes in many creative ways to avoid the zero-sum game against the likes of behemoths like Alibaba and Amazon.

It’s encouraging to see companies in Southeast Asia already moving towards Ecommerce 2.0. Pomelo Fashion, an online-only, direct-to-consumer fashion brand, focuses on building its own brand and vertically integrating its supply chain by manufacturing its own apparel.

In Indonesia, another startup has taken a cue from the Facebook and Instagram seller playbook, and put it on steroids. Sale Stock, a fast-fashion startup based in Jakarta, has taken a similar path to Pomelo Fashion with its own unique, experiential angle.

With an increasing amount of Sale Stock orders coming from chat sessions on its mobile website, the company has invested in and launched the region’s first ecommerce chatbot to process mobile chat orders on Facebook Messenger, built by former Google, Palantir, and NASA engineers.

2017 ecommerce trends

6. Expect more casualties from a potential Alibaba and Amazon face-off

2016 was a big year for consolidations in the Southeast Asian ecommerce space:

  • Zalora Thailand and Vietnam sold for scraps to Thai retail conglomerate Central Group
  • Cdiscount was picked up by Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi’s TCC Group
  • Female-focused ecommerce player Moxy re-emerged as Orami after merging with Indonesia’s Bilna
  • Japan’s Rakuten shut down its Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore marketplaces as well as returning its Thailand business to its original founder
  • Singapore-based online grocer RedMart sold for less than it raised to Lazada on the heels of a rumored Amazon entry into the market with AmazonFresh

And they will continue throughout 2017, especially in the hyper-competitive “Ecommerce 1.0” space. One of the big victims could be Thailand-based Ascend Group, which owns a portfolio of ecommerce and fintech assets such as Wemall (B2C) and WeLoveShopping (C2C). There have already been signs.

Its Philippines entity, launched in late 2015, shutdown this year. And with the company’s focus on fintech—it sold a 20% stake in Ascend Money to Ant Financial this year—Ascend may pull out of retail ecommerce for good come 2017.

7. Brands skip the marketplace bait-and-switch and go direct-to-consumer or multi-channel

There are many benefits for brands to sell on the likes of Lazada, MatahariMall and 11street—relatively quick setup and access to “free” traffic generated by the host marketplace. And that’s why 2016 saw many brands like L’Oreal and Unilever setting up shop on these platforms.

However, brands are gradually discovering that the cons outweigh the pros. Marketplaces collect huge amounts of data that pinpoint exactly which product categories and brands sell well, at what time and which location, and to whom. Amazon has leveraged this valuable information to introduce its own private labels to compete with its merchants.

In 2017, we will see brands getting smarter and leveraging a marketplace presence as an initial and short-term strategy. The long-term strategy is to sell direct-to-consumer via their brand.com sites where they own all the customer data, control of brand image and can offer features like subscription commerce.

2017 ecommerce trends

Others might adopt a multi-channel approach instead and use marketplaces to sell lower-end and lower price point products while reserving the brand.com channel for a more premium experience.

8. Hyper-competition will drive entrepreneurs and established firms to explore insurance, finance and healthcare

With ecommerce being hyper-competitive and capital heavy, entrepreneurs have started to look beyond physical retail for new opportunities. Following a similar trajectory as the US and China, startups in Southeast Asia will gradually move into insurance, finance and healthcare. The underlying concepts are the same—use the internet and technology to create marketplaces or go direct-to-consumer for non-physical products such as loans, life insurance and even data.

2016 saw new fintech startups such as EdirectInsure—with frank.co.th in Thailand and frankinsure.com.tw in Taiwan—trying to change the way car insurance is being sold as well as incumbents such as Asia Insurance offering Pokémon Go and mobile phone micro-insurance direct-to-consumer and exclusively online.

Alibaba’s acquisition of Lazada wasn’t so much about growing retail gross merchandise volume as it was about getting a scalable distribution channel for Alibaba’s other, higher-margin products. Jack Ma publicly alludes to it in his 2015 letter to shareholders:

“Alibaba group’s strategy is to build the infrastructure of commerce for the future. Ecommerce is only the first step. […] Around half of Alibaba Group’s workforce and our affiliated companies, including Ant Financial and Cainiao, are working on important areas of our ecosystem, including logistics, Internet finance, big data, cloud computing, mobile Internet, advertising and the so-called double H industries—Health and Happiness (the big data-based healthcare and digital entertainment businesses which will take 10 years to become data-driven).”

2017 ecommerce trends

Expect a roll-out of Alipay and Ant Financial related services (banking, credit scoring, mutual funds, etc.) towards the end of 2017. In addition, we will see more incumbents such as traditional banks, insurers and healthcare businesses moving online.

9. Ignored but not forgotten, companies will focus on the last remaining vestige in Southeast Asia: Myanmar

Businesses will be exploring new markets geographically in Southeast Asia as large markets saturate making greenfield ones like Myanmar more appealing.

With 53 million people, Myanmar is the fifth largest country in Southeast Asia. The country is also very unique compared to its neighbours as the country was shut off from the world until 2011 and is currently leapfrogging straight into the mobile era. Unlike its cousins who are “mobile-first”, Myanmar is mostly “mobile-only”—an estimated 20% of the population is online, most of which happened in the last two years.

Rocket being Rocket went into Myanmar as early as 2012 launching classifieds sites like Work.com.mm and Ads.com.mm. Its first proper ecommerce venture in Myanmar called Shop.com.mm got its start in late 2014. With an average of 90,000 sessions per month for the last six months and flat growth, Shop.com.mm doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture of the ecommerce opportunity in Myanmar.

However, given that Myanmar has 10 million Facebook users in the country, perhaps marketing an ecommerce business the traditional way isn’t the right approach. With so much of Myanmar’s internet usage attributed to social channels, starting out on Facebook shops may be a better way to tap into what could be one of the most interesting future ecommerce markets in Southeast Asia.

2017ecommerce trends

(Source: Minzayar Oo / BuzzFeed News)

This has already been proven effective in Thailand where an estimated one-third to half of ecommerce transactions are happening on Facebook, Instagram and LINE. One would expect chat commerce to be even more pervasive in Myanmar.

“Facebook’s influence in Myanmar is hard to quantify, but its domination is so complete that people in Myanmar use “internet” and “Facebook” interchangeably.”—Sheera Frenkel in a BuzzFeed report on Myanmar.

10. On-demand in Southeast Asia will whittle down to a few industries where the model actually makes sense

Once hailed by pundits as the holy grail of ecommerce thanks to zero burden of costly physical assets, on-demand seems to be nearing its end in the US. Other than Uber itself, many Uber-for-X clones have shut down or are struggling such as Homejoy, SpoonRocket, DoorDash, and Postmates to name a few.

Poor unit economics, platform leakage, and a stronger economy in general are all issues that have plagued on-demand startups over the past year.

In Southeast Asia, things haven’t been much brighter for on-demand startups. Happy Fresh, a groceries on-demand service, recently shut down its Taipei and Manila offices while going through a round of layoffs. It also quietly replaced its former founder and CEO Markus Bihler with a new guy. In Thailand, Inspire Ventures-backed Tapsy, a personal services marketplace, also shut down only few months after launching.

Go-Jek, Indonesia’s bike-hailing and now on-demand everything unicorn, suffered through an exodus of founders, with both its co-founder and VP of product leaving the company in October, triggering suspicions of internal turmoil.

While general sentiment for on-demand startups has taken a hit both globally and across Southeast Asia, in reality this is only the start of a natural process of weeding out all the “me-too” players in verticals where the on-demand model doesn’t make sense.

“The issue isn’t with the concept of something being available “on demand”. It’s whether a consumer or a business will pay a premium in order to have access to it immediately. Just because you make something available on demand, it doesn’t mean people will pay for it,” said Mathew Ward, co-founder and CEO of Helpster, the Bangkok-based company that matches employers with candidates seeking blue-collar jobs.

He continues,

“Home services is one area that is ‘nice to have’ access to instantly, but not a ‘must have’.  People won’t pay a premium for it and your unit economics don’t work, this is why we have seen so many of these fail. If you focus on things that have urgency such as transport or in Helpster’s case, access to qualified staff to fill an urgent staffing need, people will pay a premium and therefore you can build a business that actually works. The “on-demand” model isn’t broken – you just have to look for areas where speed of access is incredibly valuable. If you do, you can build a successful, thriving “on-demand” business.” 

2017 ecommerce trends

With Southeast Asia’s funding sentiment shifting in 2017 from growth at all costs towards sustainability and profitability, we expect to see on-demand startups thrive in verticals where the model works while other “me-too” ones fizzle out. The process will only be exasperated by the likes of Uber and Grab doubling down on Southeast Asia with their massive war chests.

11. Amazon to enter Southeast Asia (finally)

“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”—Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II

2017 ecommerce trends

BY SHEJI HO, CMO AT ACOMMERCE.
Grab adds Alipay in Southeast Asia

Source: Google images

Following Uber’s move last May, Grab adds Alipay, China’s largest digital payment service, to support its taxi on-demand services in Southeast Asia to tap into Chinese tourism.

Grab only began accepting credit card and digital payments this year — it started out resolutely cash only. Visitors from China made Southeast Asia the world’s fastest growing tourism region, as Skift recent reported.

Grab’s move mirrors the efforts of Alibaba and other Chinese consumer companies who want to follow the money into Southeast Asia.

The addition of Alipay is unlikely to make a huge impact on Grab’s business initially  since the app is very much localized in each of its six countries in Southeast Asia, thus a huge roadblock for Chinese tourists, particularly when Uber sells itself as an easy international option.

However, as part of its alliance with Ola, Lyft and Didi Chuxing, Grab is working to link its service with that of Didi. The integration between Didi and Grab is expected before the end of this year.

Grab, which has raised over $650 million from investors including SoftBank and Didi, is initially making Alipay available for users in Singapore and Thailand, two hugely popular destinations for Chinese tourists, but it plans to expand it across its other markets.

A version of this appeared in Techcrunch on June 21. Read the full article here.