Alibaba’s Ant Financial Announces VR-Based Payments Service

Alibaba’s Ant Financial Announces VR-Based Payments Service

by August 16, 2016

Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba’s financial service affiliate that runs Alipay, has unveiled a new virtual reality (VR)-based payments service which the group plans to launch in September, according to a report by Yicai Global.

In March, Alibaba established its first VR lab to explore VR shopping experiences, then unveiled in July Buy+, the group’s first VR shopping product. Buy+ allows users to browse products such as clothes and bags, and call for virtual models to showcase items before adding them to their shopping cart.

The new VR-based payment solution, called VR Pay, will complete the VR shopping experience, saving users the need to take off the VR headset to pay through a mobile app.

Starting from September, users will be able to complete transactions within the VR experience.

When customers place an order, VR Pay will present them with a 3D Alipay checkout counter. Customers can log into their Alipay account via the VR headset in three ways: either by gazing at a single point for a few seconds as a sign of confirmation; or by nodding their hand within the VR headset; or by making a specific gesture with their hands while holding a sensor or controller. Users then verify and confirm the payment with a password.

Ant Financial Alibaba Virtual RealityThe technology is being developed by F-workshop, a seven-strong team that Ant Financial set up earlier this year, which focuses on research and development of VR payment. The team comprises experts in technologies, products and interactivity, and was formed by a technical specialist from Alibaba’s B2B department.

Ant Financial said that with VR Pay, the firm has achieved the security required for Alipay transactions, and plans to combine this with biometric technology.

Chris Tung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer, told the South China Morning Post that the company is helping consumers to look into the future by bringing in cutting-edge technologies. However, he warned that commercialization of the VR technology was still some time away and needed greater adoption.

According to Zhuang Zhuoran, the mobile technology director of Alibaba:

“An initial market for VR and AR (augmented reality) is yet to be developed [in China]. The industry needs time more time to mature.”

Earlier this month, Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, announced a strategic partnership with HTC Corporation to advance VR development with cloud computing solutions. The purpose is to explore high scalable and price-competitive VR solutions to customers worldwide, and “encourage widespread, global adoption” of the technology, the companies said.

Deloitte Global predicts that VR will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about US$700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content.

“VR is likely to have multiple applications, both consumer and enterprise, in the longer term, but in 2016 we expect the vast majority of commercial activity to focus on video games,” the firm said in a recent report. “We estimate sales of about 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million game copies sold.”

In April, Ant Financial raised US$4.5 billion in the world’s largest single private funding round for an Internet company. The funding round values the company at roughly US$60 billion and makes Ant Financial the second-most valuable private technology firm behind Uber, which is worth over US$62 billion.


Featured image credit: Alibaba.