BEIJING: The number of people in China using their phones to pay for goods and services at the point of sale more than doubled last year, according to a new report which suggests that by 2020 almost half of all smartphone users will be using the technology.

eMarketer, the US researcher, highlighted the contrast between the rate at which mobile payment technology is being adopted in China compared to the US: in 2016, 38% of smartphone users in China will be using it compared with 19% in the US.

In terms of absolute numbers, that means some 195m consumers in China will be paying for products by tapping, swiping or checking in with a mobile phone, a 46% growth on 2015, making it the largest as well as the fastest-growing market in the world.

"Despite having a higher penetration rate than the US, China's proximity mobile payments market still remains largely untapped, with usage mostly concentrated in larger cities," said Shelleen Shum, eMarketer forecasting analyst.

As in the US, and other markets, a major obstacle to more rapid uptake is getting retailers to upgrade their systems to accept mobile payment methods at the point of sale.

"The phenomenal opportunity for retailers is that smartphone users in China are more willing to store payment information in their phones and are more willing to experiment with other forms of non-cash payments than users in most developed countries," Shum added.

That is in large part due to a "late-mover" advantage, since China does not have the strongly entrenched credit card culture that exists in the US. In effect, China has jumped directly from cash to mobile payments.

Urban areas, especially, have already seen widespread adoption of Alipay and Tenpay, the mobile payments systems from internet giants Alibaba and Tencent, a trend that is likely to spread to rural areas as e-commerce makes greater inroads there.

eMarketer also noted the growing numbers shopping online via smartphone – more than 70% of smartphone users will make a purchase through their phone in 2016 – suggesting this indicated how Chinese consumers have developed a "strong comfort level" with new forms of e-commerce technology.

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff