3 Chinese Companies' Artificial Intelligence Labs Focus on Retail

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Retailers in China have been betting big on Artificial Intelligence. In fact, it's a competition. Since the start of last year, Tencent and Alibaba have spent over $10 billion on retail-focused deals, mostly revolving around ownership of the 'smart retail' experience. [1

1. Tencent

Lab locations: Shenzhen, China / Bellevue, Washington, USA

Tencent, best known for their social networking app WhatsApp, has already opened an AI lab in Shenzhen (often referred to as the Silicon Valley of China) as well as in Bellevue, Washington. [2]  While they aren't building their own brick-and-mortar, they have been rolling out collaborations with retailers to help them integrate AI in their brick-and-mortar locations.

2. JD.com  

Lab location: being built in a small town in Guangdong province, China

JD.com is partnering with Hong Kong's Fung Retailing to bring AI to over 3,000 stores across China. They're developing technologies like virtual fitting and smart shopping assistants. The CEO of JD.com, Richard Lui has said,  “I hope my company would be 100% automation someday…no human beings anymore, 100% operated by AI and robots.” [3] They have made a  30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) comittment opening an AI Research Center. [4] They're not only planning to use AI and robots in retail locations, but have already introduced some of their most advanced robotics in their 500 warehouse locations.

3. Alibaba

Lab locations: Hangzhou, China / Seattle, Washington, USA / Silicon Valley, CA / Beijing, China

Alibaba's 'New Retail' strategy is based on introducing artificial intelligence to the retail experience.  They've introduced  technology like shopping assistants and garments with RFID embedded them which connect to smart mirrors that give recommendations, bringing AI into fitting rooms. [5]  Alibaba also provides a platform they call, 'Store Xaiomi' which is a customer service chatbot that uses both voice and text to respond to inquiries.   Alibaba has labs all around the world including:  Institute of Data Science Technologies (iDST) in Seattle, Hangzhou, Beijing, and Silicon Valley.


What do you think?

Brick-and-mortar took a major hit last year with American brands closing over 8,000 store locations. [7]  All of these efforts seem to be about mitigating the risk of obsolescence for physical retailers and making China the AI capital of the world.  It all calls to question, can AI save brick-and-mortar retail?

AI will save brick-and-mortar retail