Alibaba is rapidly expanding its new offline retail food store chain, Freshippo (Hema in Chinese), with stores operating on cutting-edge innovations.
South-East Asia has become the latest battleground for e-commerce companies. Can China’s tech giants win by proxy?
You may not recognize the name SenseTime. But if you have spent time in China recently, SenseTime will almost certainly recognize you. Founded just five years ago by a group of data researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the startup has rapidly established itself as China’s leading provider of facial recognition technology. Its face-scanning software is used everywhere from smartphones to office blocks and police stations.
The rise of e-commerce has long been touted as a threat to shopping malls and bricks-and-mortar stores, with consumers preferring the ease and convenience of shopping online. But while e-commerce has made serious inroads into certain goods and services, sectors such as fresh food remain stubbornly resistant, even in China, one of the most eager adopters of e-commerce in the world. The country’s internet giants are moving toward a new model, what Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma calls “New Retail” — an integration of online with the offline world that e-commerce was supposed to cannibalize.
More domestic brands appearing on store shelves may indicate that the golden days for foreign brands are slipping away. “Made in China” was once considered a sign of cheapness and low-quality, but the belief now has changed. Chinese consumers now think that Chinese brands are equal to, or even exceed, foreign brands. As buyer confidence grows and domestic quality improves, what can multinational brands do to regain ascendancy?
While e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba continue to rise, many physical-store retailers are dying off. MINISO is a rare exception, however. Founded in 2013 by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu and Japanese designer Miyake Junya, MINISO has exploded into an emerging business empire with 1,800 stores in 40 countries, delivering an eclectic collection of affordable, curated goods, challenging the physical retail naysayers. What is the key to MINISO’s success? Through careful consideration of the customer and a unique aesthetic, it manages to do what online stores cannot: Deliver an experience.
At the enormous Pacific Department Store on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road, barriers block the street entrances and windows are shuttered. The store, which was one of the largest on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets for nearly two decades, closed in January. The shell of the store now sits incongruously opposite the K11 mall, which has been thriving ever since implementing a smart re-think of the shopping mall concept a couple of years ago. The lesson of the different fates of these two shopping centers is clear—adapt or die. Retail is not declining in China, it’s just changing.
After incredible growth in recent years, e-commerce in China seems to be slowing down. One reason behind this is the high penetration rate. By 2016, 62% people in Tier 3 and 4 cities were shopping online, while the number in Tier 1 and 2 cities stood at 89%. On the other hand, consumers in China have also changed over time, now the middle class are shifting their money from cheap products to premium services and goods where experience and recognition ties take priority. So does it mean online retail will go gloomy and physical stores may return to the spotlight?
Each year Alibaba breaks a new record on Singles Day, the 24-hour online shopping extravaganza has now become a celebratory annual event. The rise of online ecommerce has transformed the way Chinese people shop. According to 2015 e-commerce stats, 46% of Chinese people buy groceries online, 30% people made impulse buys, and $ 333 billion purchase were conducted on mobile devices. The online shopping phenomenon, on one hand, is hurting retail, on the other is fostering a multi-billion dollar express delivery business. With 8,000 express companies national wide, China’s express delivery market was worth $ 42.1 billion in 2015.
With humble beginnings in Hangzhou, Jack Ma went on to create an e-commerce titan that has grabbed the attention of China and the world. Today Jack Ma and Alibaba’s story has become the stuff that legends are made of. Duncan Clark has witnessed firsthand Jack Ma’s dizzying rise in China’s e-commerce firmament. A former investment banker at Morgan Stanley, Clark first got to know Jack Ma in 1999 when he met him in the small Hangzhou apartment where Ma and his friends famously founded Alibaba. In this interview, Clark, also the author of Alibaba, the House that Jack Ma Built, talks about Alibaba’s incredible story and its impact on China.