Alibaba Launches Giant Car Vending Machines In China

Shares of Alibaba fell on Thursday morning, despite an exciting news story involving the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut, which is rushing to shake up the way people buy cars in China. Alibaba seems to be taking a page from Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, with the continued push into physical retail. The plan outlined by Alibaba, is to open two giant car vending machines in early 2018, shaped like a futuristic tubular building with a giant cat’s head on top.

Having monopolized the online world, Alibaba continues to push offline with investments in Chinese bricks and mortar retailers.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said back in November, “physical stores serve an indispensable role during the consumer journey, and should be enhanced through data-driven technology and personalized services in the digital economy.”

“By fully integrating online and physical channels together with our partners, we look forward to delivering an original and delightful shopping experience to Chinese consumers,” he added.

So how does this vending machine work?

The smartphone user must open Alibaba’s Taobao app to scan a car. The app will then process the picture and let the user pick a color and other basic options.

Next, the app will require the user to take a selfie to confirm their identity. Once confirmed, the app will arrange for a test-drive at a car vending machine.

To retrieve the car, the customer will gain access through a facial recognition device at the staffless vending machine. According to the company, a “super member” does not need to leave a deposit to retrieve a vehicle.

Once the identity is confirmed, the multi-floor vending machine will rotate cars like a ferris wheel until the car is found. The test-drive is limited to three days, after which Alibaba can arrange for the sale or the user can choose a different model. Alibaba members are limited to five test-drives per month, where Alibaba is relying on its financial services arm to vet members before borrowing.

Alibaba said it will open two locations starting in January 2018 (Shanghai and Nanjing), and it plans to open “dozens” more across China later in the year. The vending machine concept blended with car buying, is an attempt by the company to streamline the buying process to as quick as opening a can of soda.

“Our thinking behind the Car Vending Machine is focused on helping users solve certain problems they face in the car-buying process. To do that, we are building a physical, experiential store that offers staffless car pickup through facial-recognition, three-day ‘deep’ test-drives, and a one-stop-shop that displays [cars from] all mainstream brands at once,” said Huan Lu, marketing director of Tmall’s automotive division.