Why would an e-commerce giant like Alibaba open a grocery store (Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket) and yet allow people to order items online? Customers can order that while staying at home. You would think.

Well, that’s probably because Alibaba is putting a lot of money and sweat into taking the retail customer experience beyond expectation. Here is how.

Alibaba’s quest for the continuous improvement of customers’ retail experience is strongly backed by data.

Let’s look into some numbers. Statista projects that out of the total global retail sales, e-commerce share has been steadily increasing. In 2015 the e-commerce retail share was 7.4% while by the end of 2021, it’s estimated that share will shoot up to 17.5%. 

Alibaba's Hema Gorcery Store

In 2017, global e-retail sales surpassed 2.2 trillion USD and with innovations like Hema Grocery Store, that number seems to increase even faster.

Heavily populated countries like China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico are the major contributors because of the proliferation of people with internet access.

How is Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket reshaping the retail market?

They are going ‘brick-and-mortar’. In the recent past, Alibaba has adopted the physical retail store approach which they’ve been calling “The New Retail Model”. In the global scenario where conventional retail stores are losing their business to online stores, Alibaba’s move to the brick-and-mortar model can be taken as a bold and risky attempt.

But, Hema Grocery Store is one of a kind, where customers come in numbers and place their orders online. Yes! they use Hema’s mobile app to purchase items and make payments on the staffless counters. They’ve merged the concept of online and offline purchases.

The blend of online and offline retail 

Initially, it used to be the customers who went to the product, later with the popularity and convenience of e-commerce it was the product that went to the customer’s mobile phones. That actually had some pitfalls of refund and return mechanisms. Moreover, people would love spending time shopping by physically going to buy things. This realization probably gave birth to the Hema Grocery Store and from the 2018 11-11 Global Shopping Campaign, Alibaba made an innovative step towards a newer and ingenious shopping experience.

Hema Grocery Store | Alibaba's Hema SupermarketHema is Alibaba’s supermarket powered by technology and data. Every product here has a digital price tag with a barcode and when you scan the code with the Hema’s app on your smartphone, you get a whole lot of details about the product including the reviews, similar and other recommended products. If the buyer lives within a 3 km of radius from the store, the item gets delivered within 30 minutes.

Hema is now known for fresh food and groceries where you can actually see live fish and all kinds of seafood and to add to that amazing experience, you can get it cooked there itself.

Hema Order Fulfillment | Alibaba's Hema Supermarket
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You’ll see a lot of workers with bags fulfilling the orders that customers make online. There is a conveyor belt that runs throughout the store to fulfill customer orders.

The Robotic Restaurant

In 2018, Hema Supermarket launched a robotic restaurant where you book a table from the app. When you get there, you order your food with the app again and robots will actually serve you.  How cool! right?

Alibaba's Hema Supermarket

That’s not enough though. You can hand-pick fresh seafood and make payments with your app again. Your hand-picked seafood will be sent to the kitchen via a conveyor belt and when cooked, small robots will fetch pretty much everything you have ordered. Some dishes like soups and stuff need a human server, however. If you want more food you can simply scan the QR code on your table.