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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."
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

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

8 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.