On Monday, Alibaba rolled out its new “auto vending machine” in Guangzhou, in partnership with Ford. Over three-fourths of Chinese consumers are willing to consider buying a car online; the e-commerce giant’s move aims to reach the remaining drivers who are less comfortable with making such a big-ticket purchase sight-unseen. 

The structure features around 100 different cars that can be booked online for a three-day test drive. Users must register with a photo of their face through Tmall’s “Super Test Drive” page on its mobile app, and the car is released to them when their face is scanned on-site. Test drives are free for VIP members or those with a high credit score on Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial’s Sesame Credit system, which is based on factors including online purchases and social media activity.



This development is part of Tmall’s aggressive pursuit of auto sales. More than half of auto brands benchmarked in L2’s China: Luxury Auto report host shops on the platform. 

Another new high-profile omnichannel auto partner is Maserati, which recently became the first auto brand to open an Alibaba “smart store.” Maserati’s newly relaunched Shanghai dealership features an AI “receptionist” that scans people’s faces as they enter the store. If they belong to Maserati’s loyalty club, it will recognize and greet them by name. Users can become automatically registered for the club by playing an AR game on the Taobao app, and the store itself also features a special VR driving experience game. Users can also scan QR codes next to each car model to receive more information. Maserati will also use Tmall marketing campaigns to target specific consumers based on spending data. 

These auto omnichannel developments are part of Alibaba’s overall online-to-offline “New Retail” initiative that spans across sectors from luxury to grocery shopping. It has also included Alibaba’s Hema connected grocery store chain, acquisitions of offline retailers like department store Intime, omnichannel features on Tmall stores, and pop-up promotions on Singles’ Day.

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