THE season for the best xiaolongxia (“little dragon shrimp”) is just beginning, and so on a recent evening four young friends tucked into a pile of steaming-hot crayfish. But rather than sitting in a restaurant they were at a table surrounded by supermarket aisles stocked with nappies, baby formula and cooking oil. Above them, groceries and made-to-order meals, gathered by store attendants from shelves and nearby cooking stations, were wafted on aerial conveyor belts into a storeroom. There they were packaged and whisked to Shanghai homes within a 3km radius, at any hour and in under 30 minutes.

“Eat-as-you-shop” is one innovation of Hema Xiansheng, a chain of fancy supermarkets. And these shops are themselves the showiest elements of a bid by Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce emporium that handles more transactions than Amazon and eBay combined, to master “online-to-offline”, or O2O, retailing, in which customers use digital channels to buy from physical businesses….Continue reading

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