Alibaba last week announced a deal to help Ford sell electric vehicles in China but, aside from the big names involved, the most intriguing part was a proposed vending machine for sales. Now the firm has spilled details of what exactly that will look like.
The ‘Car Vending Machines’ are futuristic buildings that look like a gigantic version of something you’d find in Toys “R” Us.
Alibaba has made a push to integrate its online sales platforms with offline retail, including a recent $2.9 billion investment in hypermarket operator Sun Art, but this new project is one of the clearest examples of its strategy to date.
The process starts when a customer uses Alibaba’s Taobao app to scan a car that they want to test, and potentially buy. Once the system recognizes the vehicle it lets them pick a color and, once they enter basic information and snap a selfie, arrange for a test-drive if the vehicle is available.
The customer then heads over the unmanned vending machine facility and, after showing their face (hence the earlier selfie), their order is retrieved and the car is dispatched.
The test-drive is for three days, after which they can buy the vehicle outright via Taobao or arrange to test a different model.
Alibaba said it will open two stores in January, one in Shanghai and the other in Nanjing. The ultimate goal is to make buying a car as simple as a can of coke, and it plans to open “dozens” more outlets across China in 2018.
Allowing anyone to just take a car for three days is risky business and, alongside some T&Cs such as a limit of five test-drives per two months, Alibaba is relying on its own financial services to vet and identify who is borrowing the vehicles.
Users only qualify for a free test drive if they have reached a certain level on its Zhima credit-scoring service, while they must also be Alibaba Super Members.
This isn’t the first time Alibaba has sold vehicles — or other large ticket items like airplanes — online, but in this instance is on blending it with a physical retail experience. It looks good in a three-minute video, but the key test will be real life.
Vending machine car showrooms aren’t a new concept. One launched in Singapore this year, and other projects in Germany and Nashville have been around longer still.