TOKYO - Users of Singtel's Dash mobile wallet can now go cashless while shopping in Japan.
They can pay for their purchases by scanning a QR code, as the telco debuted its cross-border mobile payment alliance VIA in Tokyo on Thursday (July 25).
At the moment, however, VIA is only available at 37 stores at Haneda Airport, five stores at Narita Airport, and at the Narita Gateway Hotel.
But the goal is to expand this service to central Tokyo, and other tourist hot spots like Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido in the coming year, Singtel's vice-president for business at the international group Soon Sze Meng told The Straits Times. Merchants will include convenience stores, restaurants and department stores.
The VIA alliance, which was launched in October last year, now comprise mobile wallets Dash and Thailand's AIS Global Pay. Users of these wallets can go cashless at participating merchants in Singapore and Thailand - and now Japan.
The network is set to grow as VIA, which Singtel bills as Asia's first cross-border mobile payment alliance, is expanding to include Thailand's Kasikornbank's K Plus, Axiata Digital's Boost Malaysia and Indonesia's LinkAja.
It will then comprise 40 million mobile wallet users and 2.1 million merchants across Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.
"Digital payments are gaining widespread acceptance in South-east Asia, and are fast replacing cash as the preferred transaction mode," said Mr Arthur Lang, chief executive officer of Singtel's international group.
Thursday's debut, he added, was "a big step in further bridging the digital economies of Japan and South-east Asia, facilitating travel for our customers and connecting Japanese merchants to more consumers".
VIA connects telco and non-telco mobile wallets across borders to create a region-wide payment network. Consumers pay via their own local mobile wallets, which converts prices at competitive exchange rates, when they travel.
In Japan, VIA has joined the StarPay platform built by 10-year-old Japanese fintech company Netstars.
Each StarPay terminal can be used to accept QR code payments from a whole host of mobile wallets, including Japan's Line Pay and Rakuten Pay, and China's Alipay and WeChat Pay, thus doing away with the need for multiple point-of-sale terminals.
This also means that VIA can be introduced and accepted by merchants already on the StarPay system without incurring any extra operational costs, or the need for any new equipment.
There are now 100,000 merchants using StarPay across Japan, and Netstars hopes to grow this reach to one million stores by the end of next year.
Netstars chief executive officer Tsuyoshi Ri said: "With digital payments gaining popularity and more travellers visiting Japan every year, we're seeing more Japanese merchants show interest in accepting cross-border mobile payments.
"Merchants appreciate the ease and convenience of digital payments, especially when doing transactions with overseas customers who may be unfamiliar with the local currency."
Mr Soon noted the recent tourism boom in Japan, especially with the number of arrivals from South-east Asia surging to 3.3 million last year, a jump of 14 per cent from 2017.
Thai visitors crossed the one million mark for the first time last year while Singaporeans made a total of 437,280 trips, up 8.2 per cent from 2017.
In the first five months of this year, there were 166,865 Singaporean arrivals, up 4.5 per cent from the same period last year.
"Japan is attracting a lot of inbound tourism with the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and there is very strong support from the government towards going cashless," Mr Soon said.