Alibaba has made a number of strategic moves in brick-and-mortar, including investments, partnerships, and acquisitions.

Amazon is moving full steam ahead with its brick and mortar strategy. Not only has the company opened bookstores, filed patents for machine vision in retail, and begun working on fully automated supermarkets (all of which we outlined in our Amazon teardown), but the company today announced its plans to acquire Whole Foods for more than $13B.

Amazon isn’t the only e-commerce giant to make a big push into physical stores. On the other side of the globe, Alibaba has been making a number of similar moves for a couple of years, pushing its physical presence through investments, acquisitions, partnerships, and launching their own stores. Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang has talked about the strategy of “new retail,” which combines online and offline commerce, mobile, and data to create an omnichannel purchasing experience.

Below is a timeline of Alibaba and Amazon’s plays into the physical retail space.

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Some takeaways:

  • Alibaba made its first brick & mortar play by investing $4.6B for nearly a fifth of Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group in mid 2015.
  • Alibaba’s disclosed investments and acquisitions into the retail space have totaled just over $8B, much smaller than the $13.7B Amazon just spent on Whole Foods.
  • Alibaba more frequently invests to acquire stakes of companies as opposed to outright acquisition, the exception being InTime Retail.
  • Alibaba’s investment in Yum Brands, the owner of KFC/Pizza Hut, is its first foray into restaurants, an area that Amazon has not yet touched.
  • Alibaba has partnered with Bailian, one of the largest retailers by store numbers, to combine offline and online data + purchasing.
  • While not a distribution for goods, Alibaba also has exposure to the entertainment industry via its Alibaba Pictures arm, which has invested in theaters such as Dadi Cinema Chain. (We do not include this investment in the timeline.)

Below is a timeline of major activity:

Alibaba/Amazon Physical Retail Activity
Company Date Activity
Suning Commerce Group 8/11/2015 Alibaba invests $4.6B into Suning Commerce Group for 19.9% stake
Amazon Bookstore 11/8/2015 Amazon opens its first bookstore
Alibaba 1/1/2016 Alibaba opens its first bookstore
Yum/KFC 9/2/2016 Alibaba buys the China business of Yum Brands for $460M
Sanjiang 11/20/2016 Alibaba acquires a third of Sanjiang $290M
Intime 1/9/2017 Alibaba takes InTime Retail private for $2.6B
Bailian 2/20/2017 Alibaba enters partnership retail owner Bailian Group
Lianhua 5/29/2017 Alibaba acquires an 18% stake in Lianhua for ~$100M
Whole Foods 6/16/2017 Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7B


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