UnionPay gets a boost with Great S'pore Sale

Mr Yang Wenhui concedes that branding is one area that UnionPay has to pay more attention to.
Mr Yang Wenhui concedes that branding is one area that UnionPay has to pay more attention to.

China firm sees 11% rise in spending by local cardholders in first 12 days of shopping fest

Even as Chinese payments firm UnionPay continues to fight the perception that it is a card used mainly by tourists from China, it is getting a vote of confidence from shoppers in the Great Singapore Sale (GSS).

As the official GSS card for the second year running, the company posted an 11 per cent rise in spending by local cardholders in the first 12 days of the shopping festival, against the same period last year.

Transactions by both locals and tourists grew 86 per cent, with the value of those transactions increasing by 18 per cent.

These figures follow a 15 per cent increase in spending by UnionPay cardholders at GSS last year compared to 2015. This year's festival started on June 9.

Despite its rebranding efforts in recent years, the Chinese payments firm is still trying to change the perception that its cards are accepted mainly in China.

"Branding is one of the areas where we need to spend more effort," conceded UnionPay International South-east Asia's general manager Yang Wenhui, 40.

"This is one of the challenges... Though we are quite big and have good coverage in terms of acceptance rate among local merchants, we're not that well-known."

While Singapore is a key market, and home to its regional headquarters, UnionPay is also eyeing the rest of South-east Asia. It has issued over 15 million cards in the region, up from nine million a year ago.

Since its first card was issued by a local bank (United Overseas Bank) in 2008, UnionPay has tried to capture a bigger share of the market, especially in the past two years. It became the official payment service sponsor of the South-east Asian Games in 2015, the first time UnionPay International had backed a multinational sports event.

The firm has also increased its presence among day-to-day retailers. Since May, all supermarkets in Singapore have accepted UnionPay cards, including FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Giant.

The pivot in business strategy towards the local market is reflected in the composition of UnionPay International's staff.

When the office first opened in Singapore in 2006, most of its staff were Chinese expatriates. Now, more than 80 per cent of the employees are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

Mr Yang concedes there are still challenges when it comes to carving out a larger slice of the local pie, one of them being understanding local needs.

"For example, we were not aware that offering staycation rewards is something appreciated by the locals until we ran our pilot programme," said Mr Yang.

Other UnionPay promotions, however, have been popular. A BreadTalk kaya giveaway for UnionPay cardholders who downloaded the GSS GoSpree app was fully redeemed in just over a week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'UnionPay gets a boost with Great S'pore Sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe