Tencent to buy stake in supermarket chain in rare retail foray


HONG KONG • Tencent Holdings Ltd will buy a stake in Chinese supermarket chain Yonghui Superstores Co for about 4.22 billion yuan (RM2.62 billion), setting up a clash with arch-rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd in physical retail.

China’s largest Internet corporation is acquiring about 5% of Yonghui from existing shareholders at 8.81 yuan apiece, Yonghui said in an exchange filing last Friday, a 9.9% discount to its price before trading was halted on Dec 8. The investment — a rare foray into traditional retail for a company known for games and messaging service WeChat — may be looking to drive adoption of its digital payments service in stores.

The deal follows Alibaba’s US$2.9 billion (RM11.83 billion) November purchase of a stake in grocery retailer Sun Art Retail Group Ltd, which operates about 400 hypermarkets under the Auchan and RT-Mart banners.

The e-commerce giant is betting it can use technology to overhaul a US$4 trillion domestic brick-and-mortar retail industry and drive its next phase of growth. Jack Ma’s company has already spent billions buying into grocers, shopping malls and even department stores across the country.

“The proposed Tencent-Yonghui deal suggests more tie-ups between Chinese grocery retailers and leading Internet platforms are likely,” Shen Li and Vey-Sern Ling, Hong Kong-based Bloomberg Intelligence analysts, wrote in a note last Wednesday. “Investment in groceries, a high-frequency purchase category for consu- mers, will expand the reach of Tencent’s mobile payment system WeChat Pay, which has been gaining market share from Alibaba’s Alipay over the past few years.”

Yonghui, which operates supermarket franchises and has more than 580 stores in China, plans to resume trading on Dec 18, according to the filing. China’s fourth-biggest hypermarket operator by market share already has a tech-industry investor in e-commerce player JD.com Inc, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Sun Art is the market leader, followed by China Resources and Wal- Mart Stores Inc.

For Tencent, the investment in Yonghui may help propagate the use of its WeChat Pay service, which has steadily gained market share from Alipay, a rival offering from Alibaba-affiliate Ant Financial.