In 2017, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. invested in 45 companies, compared with 37 in 2016, according to investment data research firm Lieyun. Lieyun did not estimate the amount Alibaba invested.
Lieyun says Alibaba prefers to invest in mature companies and mainly focuses on the retail and e-commerce sectors. China was the main focus, accounting for 36 deals, though Alibaba also took stakes in nine companies outside of China.
Alibaba, which has a stock market value of $469 billion, says its investment strategy emphasizes five new arenas that it calls New Retail, New Finance, New Manufacturing, New Technology and New Energy.
“The future of e-commerce is New Retail,” Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma wrote in a letter to shareholders. “Retailers must provide customized products or services to consumers, and there will be no boundary between online and offline.”
That emphasis on merging online and offline shopping was evident in several 2017 investments in which Alibaba took stakes in store-based retail chains.
Alibaba put money into regional grocery store chains like Sanjiang Shopping Club Co. Ltd. and Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co. Ltd. In November, Alibaba spent $2.9 billion to acquire 36% of Sun Art Retail Group Ltd., which operates about 400 hypermarkets in China under the Auchan and RT-Mart banners.
Hema, another retail chain partly funded by Alibaba, has opened 20 grocery stores in five cities in the past two years. All products carry QR codes and a consumer can scan a code to receive product information and recommendations of related items.
Alibaba also invested in nine overseas companies, including one, Magic Leap, in the United States. Magic Leap develops augmented reality technology that superimposes virtual images over actual objects.