SHANGHAI, China — Chinese tech giant Alibaba has accomplished what most other online retailers can only dream of: it’s integrated online shopping with brick-and-mortar stores.
Shoppers at the behemoth’s Hema Supermarkets still find all the goods you’d expect in a regular grocery store — only they have to download the app to shop there, and they can’t pay in cash.
Like Hema, many of the various ventures owned by Alibaba — founded by China’s richest man, Jack Ma — are already a part of daily life in the country, and almost indispensably so. The company owns some of the world’s largest online marketplaces, all while running one of the two mobile payment systems that have all but replaced cash.
All of this means that Alibaba has amassed a trove of personal data on millions of consumers, and so far, the customers don’t seem to mind, even as Alibaba’s reach grows. The conglomerate plans on rolling out 100 of these supermarkets by the end of the year.
VICE News headed to Shanghai to check out whether these much-hyped supermarkets are as high-tech — or innocuous — as they seem.
This segment originally aired November 13, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.