In a move seemingly designed to increase sales and local sentiment, Apple will soon accept payments from popular Chinese service Alipay at its 41 brick-and-mortar stores in the country, the first third-party system in the world to enjoy support from Apple's retail arm.
Alibaba subsidiary Ant Financial announced the forthcoming support on Wednesday, saying the partnership will make Alipay the first third-party mobile payments system to be accepted by Apple retail, reports Reuters.
Currently, Apple stores around the world, including those in China, accept mobile payments via Apple Pay. While the first-party service has seen significant growth in Apple's domestic market in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in Europe and Asia, it has yet to catch on in China.
The Alipay support is in some ways an expansion of Apple's existing payments framework, as the mobile option is a valid option for iTunes and App Store purchases. Apple began accepting Alipay in its digital stores more than a year ago.
Alipay's introduction at Apple retail stores should come as no surprise to those who have followed Apple Pay's long and tumultuous road to acceptance in China. Reports going back to 2014 suggested Apple could partner with Alibaba to deliver its fledgling Apple Pay service to the vast Chinese market.
Some theorized that a tie-up with Ant Financial would present Apple an easy path to regulatory approval in China. Indeed, both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alibaba chairman Jack Ma expressed interest in a partnership, and Alibaba later confirmed it was in talks to bring Apple Pay to China via Alipay's backend.
Those talks apparently fell through, as Apple Pay ultimately made its way to Chinese consumers in 2016 without the help of Alibaba's affiliate.