Alibaba’s Freshippo (also known as Hema) supermarket said Thursday it will open three stores in the Chinese city of Xian by the end of this year.
The New Retail supermarket’s expansion into the northwestern Chinese city follows an announcement that it will add 30 locations in Beijing by year-end, rapidly expanding its store count in the capital to 35 from the current five.
The Beijing and Xian expansion, together, more than doubles Freshippo’s presence—currently 26 stores in seven Chinese cities, including 14 in Shanghai, five in Beijing, two in Ningpo, two in Hangzhou, and one each in Shenzhen, Suzhou and the Southwest city of Guiyang.
Launched in March 2015, the New Retail-driven supermarket is the purest manifestation of Alibaba’s ambitions to marry online with offline, offering consumers a “more-efficient and flexible” shopping experience.
It starts with a mobile app that allows for researching of products while consumers browse the store. All payments are handled through Alipay, the mobile-payments platform owned by Alibaba’s related company Ant Financial. To improve consumers’ experience, the data collected from transactions is used to personalize recommendations, while geographic data helps to plan the most efficient delivery routes. Residents living within a three-kilometer radius of a Freshippo store can have their groceries delivered to their doors as quickly as 30 minutes after ordering.
Expanding Freshippo supermarkets in Xian is part of a series of pacts Alibaba Group signed with the city government on Tuesday, including a memorandum of understanding for Alibaba’s new “Silk Road headquarters,” which the company will build in the city in the next few years. The two parties signed a total of 11 strategic partnership agreements spanning cloud computing, smart logistics, New Retail and financial services.
Tianhua Zhong, vice president of Alibaba Group, said the partnership with the city government has been progressing smoothly since talks began last summer, adding that the next stage of collaboration will focus on five areas: e-commerce and New Retail, City Brain projects, accessible financial services, smart logistics and culture and entertainment.
In addition to being the historic gateway to the Silk Road, “Xian is an important part of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, and building our Silk Road headquarters [in the city] will help to expand Alibaba’s reach in the mid-west, in addition to economic zones along the [modern-day] Silk Road,” added Zhong.
The Belt and Road Initiative, announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is an ambitous, $90-billion infrastructure project to connect Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa through global trade.
Earlier this year, Xian became the first city in China to have its entire subway system accept mobile payments via Alipay—passengers can pass through subway gates simply by scanning a QR code. Upcoming collaboration projects with Ant Financial, Alibaba’s related company and operator of Alipay, include allowing cabs throughout the city to receive payments using the digital wallet, as well as providing accessible credit and financing options to the thousands of small and midsized businesses based in Xian.
“With this agreement, Cainiao will work with Xian City to build a smart logistics hub for the northwestern region, which would serve the needs of the Belt and Road Initiative. Delivery speed in the mid-west has a chance of becoming on par with eastern regions,” said Zhong.
Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao Network, is expected to invest RMB1 billion in the logistics hub, which would house the unit’s cutting-edge technologies such as automated production lines, AGV robots and robotic arms. Constructions are slated to begin this year and to be put into use before the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival comes around in 2019.
WATCH: Take an inside look at Cainiao’s intelligent warehouse.