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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In January, Amazon attracted intense attention when it opened Go, its cashless convenience store in Seattle. And it's poised to open six more of them on the U.S. west coast, according to Recode. But that still leaves the e-commerce giant far behind its Chinese rivals, which are already staking out new ground in retail.

Why it matters: The future of retail in the world's leading economies is increasingly expected to be not online shopping, but a melding of e-commerce and physical stores. And Chinese Big Tech appears to be in the vanguard of how to pull this off. The research firm Sanford Bernstein calls it the "digitization of retail."

What's happening: Go arrived about five months after the appearance of such stores in China, where tens of thousands of shoppers have already tried them out. They are part of a dizzying transformation in which Chinese internet giants led by Alibaba are becoming online-offline behemoths, investing in or acquiring some 30 physical retailers in the nation since the fall, according to Sanford Bernstein.

"It would be like Amazon buying a stake in every major offline retailer in the U.S.," Bernstein's Bhavtosh Vajpayee tells Axios.

"Whoever gets their online and offline stories right will become a gravitational black hole sucking up everybody else."
β€” Vajpayee
  • Walmart and Amazon are the leading contenders to play this role in the U.S.
  • In Europe, it's not clear who has the inside track.

Driving the news: Like Americans, a majority of Chinese people shop in physical stores. About 850 million Chinese, or 60% of the population, shop in stores, according to a note to clients last month by Wells Fargo. E-commerce comprises just 16% of total Chinese retail sales.

Hence, Alibaba reckons it will grow the fastest and largest by merging with those stores. That's why it has spent $6.7b on brick and mortar since the end of 2016.

  • It has focused on groceries, with its Hema fresh food stores, Sun Art, Sanjiang, Lianhua and the online grocery Yiguo.com.
  • Alibaba has also invested in Easyhome, a home improvement chain, and InTime, a department store operator.
  • This month, Alibaba bought out the remaining shares of Ele.me, a food delivery company.

JD.com has invested $1.5 billion in physical groceries, including 7FRESH, Better Life and Yonghui. It is a partner with Walmart in both China and the U.S. In China, they operate more than 400 stores.

Go deeper: Alibaba and Tencent vie to dominate Chinese supermarkets

Go deeper

Firefighters end search for bodies at Surfside

A picture in the memorial that has photographs of some of the victims from the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on July 15 in Surfside, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Firefighters on Friday concluded their search for bodies at the site of the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida.

Driving the news: 97 people were killed and one woman, Estelle Hedaya, remains missing.

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

🚨: Team USA closes out Day 1 with no medals for 1st time since 1972

πŸ“Ί: The Olympic events to watch today

πŸ›Ή: Athlete spotlight - Nyjah Huston hopes to skate his way into Olympic history

πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ: After loss to Sweden, U.S. women's soccer team overwhelms New Zealand

πŸ₯‡: The six new sports at Tokyo 2020

πŸ‘»: How the no-spectator Olympics could affect the athletes

πŸ’‰ About 100 U.S. Olympic athletes are unvaccinated

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

3 hours ago - Sports

Jill Biden cheers on Team USA at Tokyo Olympics

Jill Biden congratulates U.S. women 3x3 basketball team after the first round 3x3 basketball match. Photo: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

First lady Jill Biden attended three Olympic events on Saturday and hosted a watch party at the U.S. Embassy for the Team USA-Mexico softball game.

Driving the news: On her first day as a spectator at the Games, Biden attended a women's 3x3 basketball game, cheered on American swimmers during preliminary heats and caught the second half of the U.S. women's soccer game against New Zealand.