In episode 26 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma discuss Koubei, rounding out a two-part deep-dive into the local services space in China. An Alibaba subsidiary, Koubei recently merged with ele.me, another Alibaba-owned (via acquisition) entity which was covered in episode 25 last week. Listeners will also hear from Ed Sander of ChinaTalk, a China trip leader and prolific writer on the topic of ecommerce and China.
Rui and Ying-Ying tell the story of Koubei. Though the brand was started in 2004 by an early Alibaba employee, it was left for dead in 2011 before being revived in 2015 — for the explicit purpose of going after the local services market. The O2O market had reached only 4.4 percent penetration at the time, but already presented massive opportunity. When reborn, Koubei began with the F&B (food and beverage) restaurant business, but it always had grander ambitions — in fact, its very first press release said that it was eventually going to go into healthcare, supermarkets, and vending machines.
Here, the story begins to overlap with Meituan’s F&B ambitions: both aspire to digitize every aspect of the restaurant dine-in experience, including using AI to shake up the entire spectrum of operations and customer experience, and introducing “smart restaurants.” However, the crux of the battle between Alibaba and Meituan extends beyond F&B. For both internet giants, the emergence of local services and new retail as a key business unit has been obvious.
Listen to the newest episode of TechBuzz China and join our co-hosts and guest commentator in exploring: What can we predict following Meituan’s assertions that it expects to be “the most aggressive investor in the offline retail space”? How do concepts such as robots, consumer privacy, and cashierless stores fit into the picture? In what ways is China arguably leading the world in innovations in this market? How are Alibaba and rival Tencent’s divergent approaches to staking out ownership leading to different results in China’s latest tech battlefront?
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