BEIJING/NEW YORK: Coffee chain Starbucks has announced its intention of doubling its store count in China and has also said it is now accepting payment by WeChat.

The tie-up with Tencent, the internet giant whose portfolio includes the WeChat messaging app, reflects consumer trends in China, where, a recent PwC report revealed, almost a third of people prefer to use mobile payment options; up to now, however, Starbucks only accepted Apple Pay alongside cash and bank cards.

As well as taking WeChat Pay, Starbucks is also tapping into the app's digital gift-sharing service – the first retail brand to do so. From next year WeChat users will be able to send and receive Starbucks-branded digital gifts and redeem them at their local Starbucks outlet, Xinhua reported.

The moves are intended to deepen engagement with customers and introduce the brand to new customers, according to Belinda Wong, chief executive officer of Starbucks China.

"Just as Starbucks cards are among the most gifted around the globe, we aspire to also become the most gifted brand digitally in China," she said. "Despite our early success, we are only in the beginning chapters of our growth story," she added.

Ultimately, China – which is Starbucks' fastest growing market and its largest international market – could overtake the US, an investor conference in New York heard on Wednesday.

There are currently around 2,500 Starbucks outlets in 118 cities in China, but store numbers are set to double over the next five years, accounting for a fifth of the brand's planned addition of 12,000 stores around the world.

A further sign of the importance attached to the Chinese market is that Shanghai is the location for Starbucks' first international Roastery – its higher end store selling premium coffee and offering customers experience with the craft of roasting and brewing coffee.

Data sourced from China Daily, Xinhua; additional content by Warc staff