(Yicai Global) June 22 -- E-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding plans to extend the reach of its e-commerce platform focused on China's countryside areas to one-quarter of the country's rural population by setting up services centers in some 150,000 villages within three years.
"Our mission is clear: We want to improve the living conditions of China's rural regions, Bill Wang, vice president of Alibaba Group and general manager of Rural Taobao, said in a statement. "To do so, we need to provide high-quality goods, personalized services, smart logistic solutions and prices comparable to that of the cities."
Set up in October 2014, the Hangzhou-based firm's Rural Taobao project aims to provide a bridge between urban and remote areas to boost e-commerce as well as living standards. China's non-urban areas are home to around half of the country's 1.3 billion people.
China's rural retail sector is an emerging market for China's e-commerce players. Sales in such areas surged nearly 40 percent last year reaching CNY1.2 trillion (USD194 billion), data from China's commerce ministry shows. Rising purchasing power is a key driver of the growth with average disposable income per capita in countryside regions climbing 8.6% annually to CNY13,432 last year.
Under Taobao Rural, the company has set up a network of some 30,000 covering 700 counties nationwide. The facilities provide local residents with a means to purchase products online, as well as sell their own goods on Rural Taobao's online marketplace along with Alibaba's other e-commerce platforms.
Alibaba has also recently started the roll-out of Taobao Select Service Stations, where villagers can order popular products without having to order online. The company aims to introduce next day delivery for the centers in the short-term, as well as home installation for electronics.
In a recent visit to a Tmall service center located in Shouchang town near the city of Jiande in eastern Zhejiang province, Yicai Global found a variety of branded products including TCL refrigerators, Aux air conditioners, and Little Swan washing machines for sale.
"Different from the layout of general home appliance brand stores in townships and villages, the service center offline stores sell a range of brands," Wang Xuewu, Alibaba Rural's county head for Jiande told Yicai Global.
The centers also offer similar promotions to those seen online. "My Tmall service center officially opened in March this year covering 150 square meters," local owner Lu Xin told Yicai Global. "Single-store sales of electrical products reached CNY300,000 during this year's June 18 sales promotions."
Alibaba's county heads regularly conduct training for service center owners to improve their sales skills. Different from sales promotion by posters made in stores, service centers send sales promotional messages to villagers through mobile phones, Lu added.
Editor: William Clegg