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Alibaba Wants to Change the Way You Shop with Their New Cashless Megamarket

“Experience economy” — the idea that our actual experiences of buying goods and services is the real product — isn’t new, but just in the last couple years has the concep...
Last updated: 2017-03-03

Experience economy” — the idea that our actual experiences of buying goods and services is the real product — isn’t new, but just in the last couple years has the concept really seemed to gain traction among Chinese entrepreneurs. Following on the footsteps of Amazon opening their cashless bookstores and "checkout-free" grocery stores, Shanghai now has it's own Chinese equivalent: the cashless megamarket Hema Market. Here's a tour inside. It's a brave new world for the fresh foods industry.


Hema Market (盒马集市) is your 10,000-square-meter food market that refuses to even label itself a “supermarket”; it's an “e-commerce experience store”.

Um. Yeah, what does that even mean?

It certainly looks like a game changer. Hema Market is like a blown-up and expanded version of C!ty'super. Its main focus is fresh food. It’s about five times larger and goods across the board are about 10% cheaper.

A little bit of background info: Hema (“盒马”) is a homophone and wordplay of hippo (河马), replacing “river” with “box” — a name associated with other members of the “Alibaba Zoo” (previously they've rolled out Tmall — cat, Alitrip — pig, Antgroup — ant, etc). You kinda didn't need to know that but there you go. The main guy behind the startup is the ex-Logistics Director and O2O business manager of, another massive online shopping platform in China. Hema is downplaying their relationship with Alibaba in the press a bit, but the rumor is they kicked in 150 million dollars to fund it.

In early 2016, Hema made the transition from fresh food e-commerce and food delivery to offline markets. They opened their stores in places that are a bit further away from downtown, like Jinqiao and Daning. This latest behemoth, opened in December 2016, is located in the busy part of Pudong, underneath the shopping complex Shanghai Bay.

Hema Market is deep and massive — you’d need at least 15 to 20 minutes to stroll around from one end to the other.

The place can be divided roughly in half, one side is for prepacked fruits, veggies, dairy and so on. The other half are third party food and beverage companies, such as butchery store Peter’s Meadow (the one that went viral at K11), siu mei shop, puffer fish ramen shop, southeast Asian cuisine shops, and more.

Hema’s seafood market in particular is well stocked. They're offering plenty of options from blue lobsters, Dungeness crab, king crab to local favorites like mantis shrimp. Everything can be cooked in their kitchen — stir-fried, steam, baked, and so on. The pricing is similar, and frequently cheaper than other online food shops. Dungeness crab, for example, is 199rmb each compared to a noticeable markup online.

More than half of their non-fresh food, like snacks, wine, cheese, and ham, are imports. They also have Tmall’s first offline shop, offering all kinds of discounted groceries.

So here's the deal...

The only accepted payment method here is Alipay, and customers have to install a Hema app. Fortunately, Hema still uses human employees — for now — who on two visits were very helpful with getting it all set up.

While you're shopping you might notice Hema employees taking and processing orders from online shoppers. They're selecting items, packaging them, and sending them off to the delivery department.

An endangered species: The human worker.

One thing we know for sure — nearby supermarkets are going to lose tons of money. It's a brave new world out there for the average fruit and veg shopper. Welcome to the future?


Hema is at B1/F, 1138 Pudong Nan Lu, near Zhangyang Lu. Details here.