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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Alibaba, China's e-commerce behemoth, is making new inroads in the U.S. and Canada, adding its mobile payment system to thousands of stores — convenience, drug stores and other shops — frequented by Americans of all income levels.

What's happening: Alipay insists that it is not after American customers, instead seeking to serve Chinese tourists, students and business people who come in droves to North America every year.

  • But while its partnerships — with chains like 7-11 and Walgreens — may serve a lot of Chinese visitors, these stores' main clientele is ordinary locals, who now will become acquainted with the Alipay name.

The big picture: Alibaba is enticing U.S. businesses with Alipay, which allows users to pay by scanning a QR code on the app. It has more than 700 million Chinese users. It is telling U.S. companies that if they add the system, they'll get a big piece of the tens of billions dollars Chinese nationals spend in the U.S. every year.

Alipay already has 4 million U.S. users and works with luxury brands like Lacoste and Rebecca Minkoff, and can be used at duty-free shops and Vegas hotels — places frequented by Chinese tourists.

But the move this week into 7,000 Walgreens, and earlier into 7-Eleven in Canada, is part of a separate strategy, says Humphrey Ho, managing director of the Hylink Group. "The real play here is for the students, the new immigrants, and the people here to work for just a few years," Ho says.

  • There's a massive market of Chinese nationals who are in the U.S. longer than tourists, but would still like to use Alipay instead of applying for a credit card.

My thought bubble: Though it's possible that Alibaba could follow Japan's strategy from the 1960s and 1970s and break open the American market, it seems to me that Alipay's expansion will be limited to Chinese nationals for the foreseeable future.

  • As a Walgreens shopper, I'm not sure just seeing that Alipay is an option would make me want to use it. Americans love their credit cards way too much.
  • Plus, it's unlikely that Alibaba will ever get approval from the U.S. to take on the role of a bank and dole out mobile wallets. The privacy concerns are too big, Ho says.

Go deeper

Private colleges across America can't pay their bills

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Behind the scenes in colleges across the U.S., institutions are having trouble paying their bills.

Why it matters: There’s a reckoning coming in higher education — especially for smaller, private liberal arts schools — that’s been years in the making. In obvious ways, COVID accelerated some of the trends, but college finances have been hurting for a while.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
51 mins ago - Health

Special report: America's biggest hospitals vs. their patients

Expand chart
Data: JHU; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

More than a quarter of the 100 U.S. hospitals with the highest revenue sued patients over unpaid medical bills between 2018 and mid-2020, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: The report suggests that, rather than being an anomaly, patient lawsuits are relatively common across the country and among the largest providers.

51 mins ago - Health

Most top hospitals charge a more than 5x markup

Expand chart
Data: JHU; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Some of the hospitals with the highest revenue in the country also have some of the highest prices, charging an average of 10 times more than the actual cost of the care they deliver, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Hospitals each determine their own charges, or list prices. While few patients ever pay those prices, due to negotiated insurance rates, they do affect the uninsured and, experts say, ultimately influence the overall price we all pay.