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From: Glenn Petersen6/19/2017 8:32:30 PM
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Jack Ma Woos Mom and Pop Shops in U.S. Jobs Push

Detroit conference aims to fulfill pledge to Trump to create one million jobs in America

by Selina Wang
June 19, 2017

Sam Wolf moved his family's health and wellness business online more than a decade ago. The Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based company runs its own warehouse and sells thousands of nutrition products in dozens of countries through its own website as well as on Inc. and EBay Inc. But all that know-how didn't quite prepare Wolf for the experience of selling into China through Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s online stores.

Most small U.S. companies don't have the brand awareness in China to stand out among the millions of goods on Alibaba's websites, let alone the expertise that's required to take a product from a U.S. warehouse to a Chinese consumer's doorstep, cutting through the red tape to gain access to an otherwise inaccessible market. Alibaba is the virtual mall that houses the brands, but sellers are in charge of production and distribution with little clarity on the demand for their wares.

"If you want to get rich quick selling into China, this is not the way to do it,' said Wolf, who started LuckyVitamin's online store in 2005. ``There's investment up front and inherent risk. This is not just like selling products on Amazon and EBay where you just sign up and list."

Still, entrepreneurs like Wolf are the sellers Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma wants to woo when he arrives in Detroit this week for his company's Gateway conference. The two-day event is drawing thousands of U.S. business owners, from farmers to managers of more established brands, to learn how to succeed in China through Alibaba. For Ma, it's following through on a promise he made to U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year to create one million jobs in the U.S.

Jack Ma and Donald Trump on Jan. 9, 2017.
Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

While Ma's offer was seen as good diplomacy after Trump's tough campaign talk on trade and tariffs with China, it wasn't purely altruistic. Ma has big ambitions. He sees Alibaba turning itself into one of the world's most powerful economies by serving 2 billion people and helping 10 million small businesses trade on the web. By his own calculation, Ma says China will only be able to provide 40 percent of that market. The rest will have to be found overseas.

That's what brings China's richest man to America's heartland. The event will feature speeches from Ma himself and his executive team, as well as United Parcel Service Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Abney, Martha Stewart, and panels with small U.S. businesses like Wolf's that are already selling on one of Alibaba’s virtual malls. Alibaba offers sellers the opportunity to reach the almost half-a-billion shoppers on its sites, but the path to those consumers is full of hurdles, from the language barrier to differences in understanding the Chinese buyer.

Alibaba already has hundreds of thousands of U.S.-based companies registered on, a business-to-business platform primarily used for sourcing, and more than 7,000 brands across its online stores including Tmall Global, where companies sell directly to consumers. Taobao Global is another Alibaba virtual store, where more niche international brands can list online. LuckyVitamin started offering its products on Tmall during Alibaba's annual one-day shopping blow-out, called Singles' Day, last November. LuckyVitamin got just one order that day.

Since then, LuckyVitamin's sales from China have grown in line with some of its other newer markets, though China is still a small portion of overall sales. Wolf describes working with Alibaba as starting a whole new business, rather than just tacking on a new sales channel. The company has had to enlist the help of various third parties to deal with translation, regulation, logistics. In addition to paying those partners, there's significant setup work and transaction fees that LuckyVitamin has to pay, according to Wolf.

The Gateway conference, the first that Alibaba says it plans to host annually, is meant to make the daunting task of selling through Alibaba easier for small businesses. The event will walk sellers through the process and connect them with partners like international trade specialists and logistics experts.

Persuading companies like LuckyVitamin to sign on could help Ma fulfill his employment pledge to Trump. On a conference call with journalists last month, Ma noted that Alibaba has created more than 33 million direct and indirect jobs for China, so he's confident he can create 1 million positions in the U.S. over the next five years.

Wolf says that LuckyVitamin, which currently has about 200 employees, has added about half a dozen workers since starting to sell on Tmall. It's impossible to say how much of that growth is attributed to Alibaba, Wolf says, since as overall sales have been increasing domestically and in more than 30 countries, it's unavoidable that the company would hire more people for customer service and in its distribution centers to pack and ship inventory.

"Would I say that this has created more jobs?" Wolf asks. "We've definitely created jobs but I can't exactly say because of what.' Still, Wolf does concede that selling in China is ``absolutely driving the business and sales."

Baozun Inc. is one of the many companies that help international brands like Burberry and Calvin Klein sell online to Chinese consumers. Backed by Alibaba, Baozun takes care of the process for companies from start to finish, including website design, customer service, technology infrastructure, warehousing and delivery, and marketing. Though publicly traded Baozun mostly works with large multinational brands, it's hoping to attract more boutique sellers as a result of Alibaba's push in the U.S.

"The obstacle here is complexity; It's very hard to understand" the process of selling into China through Alibaba, said Baozun CEO Vincent Qiu. "It's very challenging for a small-, medium-sized enterprise to do it themselves. There's a lot of knowledge and experience that's lacking."

Qiu says that the trickiest part about working with smaller companies is developing brand awareness among Chinese shoppers. Niche brands on Tmall won't get much traffic unless Baozun does heavy content marketing on their behalf, he said.

Christopher Tang, a professor at University of California at Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management, is skeptical that there is even enough demand for small U.S. brands in China. Aside from fresh produce that Chinese consumers are increasingly buying overseas for more variety and higher quality -- like Pacific Northwest cherries, Washington State apples, and Alaskan seafood -- Tang says shoppers have access to enough products online.

"The market for goods is already saturated,' Tang said. ``If you try to introduce brands in China from America that aren't well-known, I don't think Chinese consumers are going to be excited about it.'

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From: Glenn Petersen6/21/2017 11:40:21 PM
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Ant Financial is an affiliate of Alibaba. Unfortunately, it was spun out of Alibaba prior to the IPO. It is controlled by Jack Ma. There are reports that it will IPO in Hong Kong later this year.

Meet the Chinese Finance Giant That’s Secretly an AI Company

The smartphone payments business Ant Financial is using computer vision, natural language processing, and mountains of data to reimagine banking, insurance, and more. 0

by Will Knight
MIT Technology Review
June 16, 2017

Ant Financial announces a developer initiative in 2016.

If you get into a car accident in China in the near future, you'll be able to pull out your smartphone, take a photo, and file an insurance claim with an AI system.

That system, from Ant Financial, will automatically decide how serious the ding was and process the claim accordingly with an insurer. It shows how the company—which already operates a hugely successful smartphone payments business in China—aims to upend many areas of personal finance using machine learning and AI.

The e-commerce giant Alibaba created Ant in 2014 to operate Alipay, a ubiquitous mobile payments service in China. If you have visited the country in recent years, then you have probably seen people paying for meals, taxi rides, and a whole lot more by scanning a code with the Alipay app. The system is far more popular than the wireless payments systems offered in the U.S. by Apple, Google, and others. The company boasts more than 450 million active users compared to about 12 million for Apple Pay.

Ant’s progress will be significant to the future of the financial industry beyond China, including in the U.S., where the company is expanding its interests. The company’s approach goes around existing institutions to target individuals and small businesses who lack access to conventional financial services. Ant said in April of this year that it is buying the U.S. money-transfer service MoneyGram for $880 million. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and should close in the second half of this year. The company could well apply the technologies it is developing to its overseas subsidiaries. A spokesperson for the company says it hasn’t brought Alipay to the U.S. because existing financial systems provide less of an opportunity.

Yuan (Alan) Qi, a vice president and chief data scientist at Ant, says the company’s AI research is shaping its growth. “AI is being used in almost every corner of Ant’s business,” he says. “We use it to optimize the business, and to generate new products.”

The accident-processing system is a good example of how advances in AI can flip an existing system on its head, Qi says. It has become possible to automate this kind of image processing in recent years using a machine-learning technology known as deep learning. By feeding thousands of example images into a very large neural network, it is possible to train it to recognize things that even a human may struggle to spot (see “ 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Deep Learning”).

“We use computer vision for a job that is boring but also difficult,” Qi says. “I looked at the images myself, and I found it pretty difficult to tell the damage level.”

Qi speaks a mile a minute, which seems appropriate given how quickly his company seems to be moving. Dressed in a smart shirt and dress pants on a sweltering afternoon in Beijing this May, shortly after giving a speech at a major AI conference, Qi explained that the company considers itself not a “fintech” business but a “techfin” one, due to the importance of technology.

Ant already operates a range of other financial services besides Alipay. For instance, it provides small loans to those without a bank account. It assesses a person’s creditworthiness based on his or her spending history and other data including friends' credit scores (see “ Alipay Leads a Financial Revolution in China”).

Ant’s creditworthiness system also provides a high-tech way to obtain various services, such as hotel bookings, without a deposit. Qi says that Ant uses advanced machine-learning algorithms and custom programmable chips to crunch huge quantities of user data in a few seconds, to determine whether to grant a customer a loan, for instance.

A recent hire offers some measure of Ant’s intent to apply artificial intelligence to finance. This May the company announced that Michael Jordan, a professor at the University of Berkeley and a major figure in the field of machine learning and statistics, would become chair of the company’s scientific board.

Qi is no slouch, either. He got his PhD from MIT and became a professor in the computer science department at Purdue before joining Alibaba in 2014. Once there, he developed Alibaba’s first voice-recognition system for automating customer calls.

“We built a system, based on deep learning, to carry on conversations; to provide answers to your questions,” Qi says. This chatbot system also taps into a knowledge base of information created by Ant, and is an example of how researchers are increasingly combining cutting-edge machine-learning techniques with conventional representations of knowledge. “Human language is still very hard for a machine to understand,” Qi says.

In March this year, the chatbot system surpassed human performance in terms of customer satisfaction, says Qi. “There are many, many chatbot companies in Silicon Valley. We are the only one that can say, confidently, they do better than human beings,” he says.

Ant’s success to date has certainly been impressive. Credit Suisse estimates that it manages 58 percent of mobile payments in China. A key competitor has emerged in recent years with WeixinPay, from the mobile chat giant Tencent, now accounting for almost 40 percent of the market. Ant remains enormously valuable, though. Earlier this year, a Hong Kong investment group valued the company at $75 billion. The company was expected make an initial public offering this year, but that now looks more likely to happen in 2018.

Ant is also increasingly looking to expand its interests overseas. The company has invested almost $1 billion in Paytm, an Indian payments company. It has also invested in Ascend, a Thai online payments business, and M-Daq, a Singaporean financial business. Ant apparently also sees investments and acquisitions as a way to bolster its technological prowess. Last year the company acquired EyeVerify, a U.S. company that makes eye recognition software.

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (498)6/22/2017 7:27:50 AM
From: John Carragher
   of 626
when we were over in china it seemed minor traffic fender benders were paid in cash. they would get out of their cars and complain to each other. then one guy would open his wallet pull out some cash and give it to the person who it hit. both would then drive off.

i saw this happen a few times during early commuting time.

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To: John Carragher who wrote (499)6/22/2017 9:14:04 AM
From: Glenn Petersen
1 Recommendation   of 626
...they would get out of their cars and complain to each other. then one guy would open his wallet pull out some cash and give it to the person who it hit. both would then drive off.

Efficient. Eliminate contact with insurance companies and keep your insurance rates low. Eliminate contact with the police and keep your driving record clean. Best of all, no lawyers.

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From: JakeStraw6/27/2017 10:14:38 AM
   of 626
Alibaba Group Holding Limited is now covered by analysts at J P Morgan Chase & Co. They set an "overweight" rating and a $190.00 price target on the stock.

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From: JakeStraw6/27/2017 10:32:04 AM
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Deleted - Duplicate

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From: Glenn Petersen6/28/2017 12:51:57 PM
   of 626
Alibaba to Invest $1 Billion in Lazada to Speed Asian Drive

By Lulu Yilun Chen
Junec28, 2017

-- The Chinese company is taking its stake to 83% from 51%

-- Deal extends its presence in a nascent Southeast Asia market

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. will invest another $1 billion to raise its stake in online mall Lazada Group SA to 83 percent, securing control of a fast-growing startup at the vanguard of its Southeast Asian expansion.

The Chinese e-commerce leader is buying out most other backers in a deal that values the Singapore-based startup at $3.15 billion, Lazada CEO Maximilian Bittner said, with management and Temasek Holdings Pte. remaining as the only other investors. Lazada backers Rocket Internet SE and Investment AB Kinnevik said Wednesday they were among the sellers. The startup’s previously disclosed backers also include British supermarket chain Tesco Plc.

Maximilian Bittner
Photographer: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg

Alibaba took control of Lazada last year from Rocket in a $1 billion deal -- its largest overseas move to date. The company Bittner started in 2012 is now pivotal to quickening the Chinese online retailer’s forays abroad, fulfilling billionaire co-founder Jack Ma’s ambitions of becoming a truly global business.

Lazada’s home turf is shaping up to be the next battleground for Alibaba and main Chinese rival Inc., and Inc. down the road. While still lacking the transport and payments infrastructure crucial to the widespread adoption of e-commerce, the region has become the world’s fastest-growing internet arena, with a populace of more than 600 million getting more comfortable with online shopping and payments.

“Obviously this allows Alibaba to expand its global footprint, giving them unrivaled access to users,” Bittner said in an interview. “E-commerce penetration in Southeast Asia is only roughly 3 percent, so the partnership is a great step change.”

Amazon hasn’t yet voiced its intentions for Southeast Asia, but the industry expectation is that its constant quest for growth will lead it there as early as this year. Now that Alibaba’s established its dominance of China and Amazon has taken the lead in the U.S., both are looking to make their mark overseas. JD, whose preference for building its own distribution more closely mirrors Amazon’s, is also said to be in talks to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Indonesian online marketplace Tokopedia.

Online Giant Alibaba Aims Beyond China and E-Commerce: QuickTake

Alibaba -- which despite its sheer scale still derives most of its revenue from China -- has been the most aggressive thus far. It’s amassing a regional presence in anticipation of Amazon’s eventual entry, starting with 51 percent owned Lazada. Ma traveled to Kuala Lumpur in March to declare Malaysia its first logistics hub outside of China, a centralized warehousing and distribution launchpad for the region.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, is considered among the most promising markets in the region. The country draws comparisons with China a decade ago, with its lack of retail infrastructure, an exploding mobile-user base, and a growing middle-class craving leisure and quality goods, which underpinned the rise of both.

Lazada itself covers six countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- and runs about a dozen warehouses and scores of distribution centers from which it conveys goods directly to buyers. The company is competing with well-funded rivals from MatahariMall to Sea Ltd., but Bittner said Lazada can count on Alibaba’s expertise.

Rocket Internet will sell its 8.8 percent stake in Lazada to Ma’s company for $276 million, it said in a statement. Kinnevik, which sold half its Lazada stake when Alibaba took control of the company in April, will get $115 million for its remaining 3.6 percent stake, the Swedish investment company said in a separate announcement.

This year, Lazada introduced Alibaba’s Taobao online bazaar to Singapore via a dedicated website. The Chinese e-commerce giant also helped Lazada create an online loyalty and services program that offers UberEats and Netflix along with free deliveries from Alibaba’s Taobao and online grocer Redmart. It was the first time the U.S. companies have jointly created an online rewards program, Bittner said at the time.

“The e-commerce markets in the region are still relatively untapped, and we see a very positive upward trajectory ahead of us,” Alibaba Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang said in a statement. “We will continue to put our resources to work in Southeast Asia through Lazada to capture these growth opportunities.”

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To: Paul Senior who wrote (487)6/29/2017 12:57:42 PM
From: Paul Senior
   of 626
I up my few shares a bit now on today's tech sell-off.

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From: Glenn Petersen7/1/2017 8:23:42 PM
   of 626
Starting in 2016, Alibaba’s Jack Ma advocated the concept of “New Retail”—in his words, “the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain.” Considering that Alibaba already accounts for more than one-tenth of China’s total retail sales (including 75% of online sales), with revenues surging at an astounding 50% annual clip, the implications of this overture are hard to overstate.

The Accelerating Disruption of China’s Economy

Paul Liu, Xuemei Bennink Bai, Jason Jia, Eva Wang
Jun 26, 2017

Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, looks on during the 2017 China International Big Data Industry Expo at Guiyang International Eco-Conference Center on May 26, 2017 in Guiyang, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The June 16 announcement that Amazon was buying Whole Foods was the e-commerce shot across the bow that everyone has anticipated for years. Still, the $13.7 billion deal came as a huge shock in the United States; it represented the next stage of the digital disruption that has upended all of retail. But it didn't in China, where this revolution is well underway. Our work there shows that there are many relevant lessons that others need to learn—and learn fast.

In late 2012, two of China’s most successful entrepreneurs made a very public bet on the country’s retail future. In front of a TV audience, Wang Jianlin, the real-estate maven who built his fortune in shopping malls, wagered Jack Ma, president of ascendant e-commerce giant Alibaba, that online shopping would never replace physical stores. Putting up 100 million RMB (about $16 million at the time) of his own cash, Wang bet that in 10 years online consumption would still account for less than half of all retail.

Five years out, it seems the good money is still on Wang. Yes, China’s big three digital titans—Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT for short)—have eroded brick-and-mortar market share. Protected behind the Great Firewall from outside competition, these tech disruptors— Alibaba and Tencent focus primarily on e-commerce, while Baidu dominates search—have rocketed over the last decade from obscurity to dominance. They now rank among China’s top 5 most valuable brands , with a collective brand value approaching $200 billion.

Yet, online sales in China still account for just 15% of all retail , a significant bump from 2012 but hardly a sea change. Despite doomsday warnings, retail in China is not dying. Shoppers continue to demand physical stores—to touch and feel, socialize, ask questions, and have an experience that can’t be replicated online. Is it time for retailers and real estate players to breathe a sigh of relief?

No, it turns out—and for reasons that few insiders see coming.

The true threat to retail in China may not be online shopping. It’s the increasing likelihood that the country’s e-commerce giants will turn their attention to doing bricks-and-mortar—better.

Armed with capital reserves, government protections and growing troves of consumer data , Alibaba and Tencent have both the means and the motive to redefine traditional in-store shopping. And when they do, existing players in the retail ecosystem—from big box retailers to malls, real estate agencies and developers—may face unprecedented disruption.

This was the primary conclusion from extended interviews Egon Zehnder conducted with leading retail real estate executives and industry insiders over the past four months. Our takeaway: the impact of the online-to-offline (or “O2O”) revolution is being highly underestimated and stands to take legacy retailers almost completely by surprise.

To overcome this blinkered thinking, retailers and developers must immediately change gears—strategically, but also, critically, from a talent perspective. Urgently needed are managers and executives with a strong digital skill set—an understanding of the scope and scale of transformation that’s sorely lacking among today’s retail giants. Without these key people, traditional players will find it challenging to thrive in the years ahead. Some may not survive at all.

The “New Retail” model that’s already here

Starting in 2016, Alibaba’s Jack Ma advocated the concept of “New Retail”—in his words, “the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain.” Considering that Alibaba already accounts for more than one-tenth of China’s total retail sales (including 75% of online sales), with revenues surging at an astounding 50% annual clip, the implications of this overture are hard to overstate.

Already, the company is moving fast: In little over a year , Alibaba has gone from opening its first physical store to acquiring a major department store chain, Intime Retail, for $2.6 billion. Yet this is just the beginning.

In February, Alibaba announced a strategic alliance with Bailian Group, the state-owned supermarket, mall and department store chain, which boasts massive amounts of underused retail space in Shanghai and on the eastern seaboard. The new partners will share offline retail branches, merchandising capability, logistics and technology. They are already designing new retail outlets together and developing retail technologies incorporating big data and artificial intelligence.

Alibaba has also acquired an 18% stake in Bailian’s Lianhua division—some 3,600 supermarkets and chain stores spread across the country, including the well-known Hualian brand. By enlisting big data, Alibaba aspires to do nothing less than reinvent retail—merging online and offline to form a new unichannel “O2O” experience where the notion of ecommerce versus brick-and-mortar seems quaint, if not wholly irrelevant. A pivot to the traditional retail space will enable Alibaba and other digital disruptors to accumulate even more fine-grained data on consumer behavior, which reinforces their online dominance in a positive feedback loop.

“We hope to see chemical reactions. If we can incubate a type of business model that others have never seen, then we are on the right track,” Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s CEO, explained to a reporter. Commenting on this, the CEO of one big-box retailer said, “It is changing the whole landscape … It’s a reality which you have to deal with.” Another forward-thinking executive at a state developer who we interviewed pointed out the urgent need for legacy retailers to find ways to cooperate, noting “The reason why brick-and-mortar commerce would want to cooperate with Internet players like Tencent is that standing alone they’re doomed to fail.”

Executed properly, Alibaba’s “New Retail” vision promises not just to remake shopping inside the country, but to leapfrog China ahead of the U.S. and Europe in terms of retail innovation. China is already at the vanguard when it comes to blurring lines between social media, search and e-commerce, with social platforms like Tencent integrating seamless payment and shopping functions, all inside one walled garden.

While Amazon is making tentative inroads into brick-and-mortar in the U.S. through Amazon Go and other offerings, Alibaba’s scale and speed is without precedent. A concerted foray by the likes of Alibaba and Tencent into brick-and-mortar could make the current retail disruptions caused by ecommerce look trifling by comparison. In China, the giants’ quasi-protected status and the inability of international players to gain a foothold only accentuates this trend.

Heads in the sand

If Alibaba turns its attention to real estate—and is able to gain access to prime assets and design its own unique physical shopping experience using a data-centered approach—traditional developers will be displaced. As it and Tencent harness their own algorithms to identify the perfect blend of stores for their target demographic, commercial real estate agencies could quickly find themselves marginalized. With online players applying big data and machine learning to make in-store experiences more personalized and more convenient, legacy retailers may quickly hemorrhage shoppers. Meanwhile, if malls transition from points of sale to experiential showrooms for sales made online, the whole owner-tenant model—based on a percentage of in-store sales—could be rewritten, disrupting not just individual stores or chains, but the entire retail real estate industry in China.

So far, the prevailing response from legacy retailers to these existential questions has ranged from mild trepidation to outright indifference. Some developers, seeing declining sales in the face of e-commerce encroachment, have worked actively to retrofit their malls more as “experiential centers”—places to browse, linger and try on, not merely to shop. Others are doubling down on the luxury market, which has proved to some degree resistant to online encroachment. Few, however are taking the hard steps needed to stay competitive in a world where online and offline are fast converging. And fewer still are considering the strategic talent implications of this convergence.

Many of our interviewees, including executives from leading real estate and development companies in China, Singapore and Hong Kong, seemed complacent about the looming crisis.They point to the limited market share of online players, as well as the high cost of customer acquisition, as evidence of the finite threat posed by e-commerce. Clinging to the comforting idea that people will always need stores and nothing will replace the physical experience of shopping, many underestimate the potential for further offline disruption. “The worst time for retail is over. The online thing is also a bit over,” one real estate consultancy executive told us. A leading executive at one of China’s largest hypermarkets went so far as to insist, “I am convinced that in the end, online will never be feasible on its own to make any profit.”

A response for retail

How can China’s retail incumbents avoid being devoured by today’s disruptors? A look across the industry offers some insight on which solutions may work and which definitely will not.

Wang Jianlin’s own Dalian Wanda Group offers a cautionary tale of retail hubris. After opening hundreds of cookie-cutter department stores and malls around the country in a frenzy of expansion over the last decade, the property developer has closed hundreds in quick succession. Buoyed by its size and considerable institutional resources, Wanda largely ignored the online commerce revolution. Assuming that its consumers were a captive audience, the developer failed to upgrade or customize its properties to drive traffic. Shoppers bolted en masse—moving on to more upscale settings or online alternatives.

Other developers, especially those behind high-end properties on the eastern seaboard, have moved more aggressively to transform their malls into more“experiential” centers. The underlying rationale is to provide consumers with a physical space where they can do all the things impossible online—from eating in restaurants and seeing live entertainment to socializing with fellow shoppers and trying out the latest products in a showroom setting. One senior executive from a large state-owned developer has gone so far as to suggest, “Perhaps in the future, the word "shopping" could be removed from the name “shopping mall,” as people will come to the malls for socializing, for fun, for entertainment—not necessarily for shopping.”

Loyalty programs, which reward in-store customers with points and rebates, are also being embraced as ways to get shoppers to buy in malls, rather than online. Examples include Capitaland’s Capitstar initiative , a multi-store, multi-mall cardless reward program rolled out across Asia.

Surviving and thriving in the face of increased retail competition may depend on taking a cue from the hospitality sector. This requires acknowledging that customers shop not merely for a product but for a distinct and branded experience. Just as the best hotels create loyalty with a unique style and service offering evident from the very first guest interaction, so must progressive malls better define and deliver a branded experience that transcends any one store. In this respect, international developers such as the Kerry Group and Sun Hung Kai are more quickly moving to incorporate a hospitality element to their property management approach. Concierge-like services and customer experience-focused training for every customer interaction point make their properties preferred venues. As noted by a major high-end mall developer based in Hong Kong, “You need to have people to come to spend time in the mall. It’s not so much about just the transactional experience.”

Data makes the difference

Yet, these steps alone may do little to mitigate the power and advantages of the disruptors. Ultimately, data—not dining options or bonus points—will make the difference.

Brick-and-mortar-first retailers have traditionally lagged far behind online counterparts when it comes to capturing and applying consumer information to create personalized and streamlined shopping experiences. But progressive retailers are quickly leveling up. The A.S. Watson group, which boasts more than 13,000 health and beauty stores across Asia and Europe, recently committed $70 million to integrate an enterprise data platform into its operations. The system provides unified customer data across the organization and uses machine learning to process big data and enhance customer experiences.

Creative partnerships to share data and technology with online players can also yield results … at least, in theory. Problems arise because of the asymmetrical nature of most relationships: e-commerce giants, armed with resources and data, often hold all the cards. This can leave traditional retailers in a vulnerable position; unable, unwilling or too cautious to partner. As one high-end mall developer explained, “Of course, they [Alibaba] will always promise they will share back something else, but in the end maybe they won’t do it.”

A large hypermarket chain in China, for instance, was recently approached by Alibaba about a data-sharing scheme. Alibaba offered to provide detailed buying behavior about customers in a 5-kilometer radius of a planned hypermarket—everything from gender to seasonal preferences. In exchange, the hypermarket was asked to share aspects of its own customer database. It declined the offer, because the CEO couldn’t assess whether what it was giving up was worth what it would get.

Alibaba is already showing the real potential of this kind of online-offline hybrid with HEMA, the new Alibaba-backed grocery store, which already has nearly 10 locations in Shanghai and Beijing. Inside, shoppers find a carefully curated selection of 3,000 products from 100 countries, with an emphasis on high-end dining. Consumers can order online through their mobile app and get delivery within 30 minutes, within a 5-kilometer radius. Or, in a true expression of the O2O vision, they can shop in-store. Digital price tags are updated in real time, and shoppers can scan bar codes, pay via the HEMA app and have purchases delivered for free. To emphasize the “experiential” element, HEMA stores also organize special customer events and even offer a dedicated “food booth” zone where shoppers can have their groceries cooked for them.

Meanwhile, detailed shopping behavior , on everything from purchases to movement around the store, is captured via the mobile app. This data gold may be even more valuable than traditional performance indicators like value per order. By bringing online technology for the collection and application of big data into the offline world, Alibaba can ultimately simplify and personalize the shopping experience—creating a competitive edge over traditional retailers which will only intensify.

Leadership in the retail revolution

The growth of e-commerce has already jolted some players out of complacency. Progressive retailers are recruiting leaders boasting digital savviness, breadth of exposure, openness to new ideas and higher strategic orientation. At Egon Zehnder, we believe that the most important factor in nurturing and retaining digital talent is organizational culture. Companies and their leaders should consciously build cultures that encourage experimentation and learning, speed and adaptability.

In a traditional offline business, shaping a digitally-ready culture is no small task. It requires customer focus, openness, collaboration, constant learning and the willingness to “fail fast”. It also requires executives to accept both latent and visible threats, even if they cause profound discomfort. This digital talent must be able to question and debate the company’s business model and empower consideration of creative ways to co-create and cooperate with pure-play technology players.

Players who can fully integrate this bottom-up digital ethos—using the right technology in the hands of the right leadership—will thrive in the years ahead. By contrast, the great many players in the retail ecosystem who stick to business as usual may find themselves increasingly disintermediated. A mere five years after Wang Jianlin placed his famous bet on China’s retail future, it turns out the real battle isn’t between online and brick-and-mortar at all. Instead, it’s between old retail and New Retail. And this time around, the luck of Wang—and the legacy retail model he embodies—may be running out.

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From: Glenn Petersen7/2/2017 10:52:26 AM
   of 626
Alibaba’s reportedly preparing to launch an Amazon Echo clone for Chinese market

June 30, 2017 12:52 AM

Above: The Alibaba Group office in San Francisco.
Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

(Reuters) — Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba would launch a product mimicking Inc’s “Echo” next week, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“Amazon Echo”, launched in 2014, is a speaker which one can leave on all day and give voice commands to, similar to Siri on an Apple Inc iPhone.

Alibaba’s new product would be made available only in China and speak only Mandarin, the source told Reuters.

Apple and Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, have unveiled products similar to Echo with the HomePod and Google Home.

The Information, a technology website, was the first to report the news on Thursday.

Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment, outside business hours.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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