A woman demonstrates a head decoration at the Taobao Maker Festival 2017, which opened on Saturday in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province. (Photo by Li Zhong/For China Daily)
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced on Tuesday the establishment of a special committee to integrate resources and oversee the emerging consumption trends of new retail, new manufacturing, new finance, new technology and new energy.
The new committee, which the company said "has pulled in unprecedented forces", underlies its ambition to address the growth rate slowdown in pure online shopping, take bolder steps to revolutionize the retail landscape, and secure the gigantic eco-system it has built thus far.
The committee will include top-tier executives from Alibaba, with CEO Daniel Zhang leading, and Eric Jing, head of payment affiliate Ant Financial Services Group, as vice-chair. Other members include key figures across its logistics arm Cainiao, cloud computing unit AliCloud, and the Tmall and Taobao marketplaces.
In a news release, the company said it would pour massive resources into harnessing what Alibaba founder Jack Ma has called the "Five Big New Trends", which are set to sweep all industries.
"The 'Five Big New Trends' will give impetus to all aspects of the company and promote China's consumption upgrade," Ma said in an open letter to his employees.
The decision reflects a concerted effort to revamp retail after Alibaba completed a string of buyouts of physical stores, including InTime Retail Group and Bailian Group. It aims to preserve the fun and feel of shopping for buyers, while letting retailers collate the big data that enable them to sell more goods, more quickly and more profitably.
Its latest endeavor to introduce increasingly immersive and digitally-enhanced shopping experiences is exemplified in a cashier-less coffee shop unveiled over the weekend in Hangzhou, where facial recognition, QR code scanning and digital payment technologies allow for the removal of the human element from the store.
The prototype opens up the opportunity for small business owners to run AI-backed offline shops and help shoppers avoid the mundane process of queuing up to pay, CEO Zhang said.
Customers wanting to use unmanned stores have to register their mobile phones and payment accounts, and that means every transaction can be recorded and the data can be used for marketing and advertising purposes, said Matthew Crabbe, Asia-Pacific research director of consultancy Mintel.
"While this type of store will take some time for any technical glitches to be ironed out, it is likely to be part of the future of retailing," he said.
The trend of new manufacturing, focusing on customization and production on demand, was also exhibited at the Taobao Maker Festival which started on Sunday, with vendors born in the 1990s selling a wide range of unique products, such as bags made out of recycled packing materials.