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Alibaba is crushing Amazon in transforming offline shopping

Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Photo: Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Amazon has introduced high-profile experiments in offline retail in recent quarters, like the cashier-less Amazon Go, or its new brick-and-mortar book stores, but Fortune reports that Alibaba is "further along the online-to-off-line curve than its U.S. doppelgänger."

China's retail sector was in its infancy by the time e-commerce was introduced to the country during the 2000s, and consumers and retailers latched on to tools like Alibaba's online marketplace rather than waiting for or investing in an efficient network of stores.

What's next: Alibaba is now pouring profits into its New Retail initative, whereby it sells services to offline retailers that will make them more efficient and attractive to China's growing middle class.

  • According to Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, "The purest manifestation of Alibaba's online/off-line ambitions is Hema," a bricks-and-mortar grocery store that accepts orders via app, and promises delivery within 30 minutes and a 5-kilometer radius.
  • The firm's experiments in cashierless checkout systems and augmented reality are arguably further along than those at American firms like Amazon and eBay.
  • Dali Yang, a Chinese-born political scientist at the University of Chicago tells Fortune that offline retail helps support domestic jobs, which " pleases employment-conscious Chinese government officials."