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Photo credit: Alibaba.

🎵 You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why – Jack Ma is coming to town. 🎶

A bit like Santa Claus, Alibaba founder Ma each year draws up a list, checks it twice, finds out who’s naughty or nice – and then invests in the nicest startups.

In a good year for Alibaba – its valuation doubled to well over US$400 billion – it spent big on investments. In 2017, its top 10 payouts were worth US$11 billion – though that was nearly US$2 billion less than its record 2015 spending spree.

Three of this year’s were overseas, showing how the Chinese tech giant is advancing deeper into India and Southeast Asia.

Here’s this year’s top action. The indicated funding figure may include contributions from other investors.

1. Sun Art

  • Funding round: US$2.9 billion
  • Country: China

Six months after Amazon acquired Whole Foods, Alibaba made its own bold move into groceries. Paying nearly US$3 billion for a one-third stake, Alibaba invested in Sun Art Retail, which operates several well-known supermarket brands including RT-Mart and the China-based stores of French chain Auchan.

However, the deal wasn’t Alibaba’s first move into offline stores…

2. Intime

  • Acquisition amount: US$2.6 billion
  • Country: China

Alibaba made its first serious push into brick-and-mortar retail back in early 2014 when it ploughed nearly US$700 million into department store and mall firm Intime. Alibaba started 2017 with a bang by coughing up a further US$2.6 billion to take control of Intime.

Photo credit: Intime.

On top of other moves – US$100 million this year for Lianhua Supermarkets and US$4.6 billion for gadgets and appliances store Suning in 2015 – this deal sees Alibaba shaking up shops by injecting “data-driven technology and personalized services […] integrating online and physical channels together,” in the words of Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang.

That basically means making offline retail more efficient and having it double as warehousing for ecommerce.

3. Tokopedia

  • Funding round: US$1.1 billion
  • Country: Indonesia

2017 saw Alibaba make progressively bigger and ballsier bets outside its home nation, investing more in overseas startups than ever before.

In August, it doubled down on its 2016 Lazada acquisition – which gave the Chinese firm an online shopping empire across much of Southeast Asia – by throwing a lot of money at Indonesian ecommerce app Tokopedia.

4. Lazada

  • Funding round: US$1 billion
  • Country: Indonesia

Alibaba upped its stake in Lazada in April, paying an extra billion bucks to go from 51 to 83 percent.

“The ecommerce markets in the region are still relatively untapped, and we see a very positive upward trajectory ahead of us,” said Zhang in a statement. “We will continue to put our resources to work in Southeast Asia through Lazada to capture these growth opportunities.”

5. Ele.me

  • Funding round: US$1 billion
  • Country: China
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Photo credit: Technode.

China’s growing hunger for food delivery led Alibaba to once again invest in Ele.me, which emerged as the leading meal-delivery app from the boom in local service startups across China in the past few years.

Archrival Tencent is also an investor.

6. Cainiao

  • Acquisition amount: US$799 million
  • Country: China

Cainiao is Alibaba’s logistics wing, running a network of warehouses and trucking partners. The service handles 57 million deliveries a day.

This latest investment takes Alibaba’s Cainiao stake up to 51 percent.

A few months back, Cainiao showed off its first highly automated package sorting facility, where robots do most of the work.

7. Ofo

  • Funding round: US$700 million
  • Country: China

Ofo is one of China’s top two bike-share apps alongside Mobike.

In a year when many such services struggled – and at least three swerved towards bankruptcy – both Ofo and Mobike were bolstered by colossal funding rounds as they raced to expand overseas.

Ofo bike, Shanghai

Photo credit: Steven Millward / Tech in Asia.

Ofo operates in over 180 cities across 15 countries, generating more than 25 million daily rides.

8. Souche

  • Funding round: US$335 million
  • Country: China

Souche – literally “search car” in Chinese – lives up to its name as a search engine for secondhand car buyers. It also offers auto financing.

The startup is eyeing a US IPO at the end of 2018.

9. Yiguo

  • Funding round: US$300 million
  • Country: China

Fresh foods app Yiguo operates in more than 200 cities across China, with those in some of the largest cities getting same-day delivery.

This was Alibaba’s fourth time backing Yiguo. As with its investments in other retailers, the funding allows Alibaba to get a logistics boost – in this case, it taps into the startup’s well-developed network of refrigerated delivery trucks.

10. BigBasket

  • Funding round: US$280 million
  • Country: India

Over in India, Alibaba is in the late stages of a move to invest in groceries startup BigBasket, according to a number of sources. BigBasket is up against Amazon’s Now service.

If this goes through, it’ll be the Chinese firm’s biggest India bet since it backed shopping and mobile wallet app Paytm. Indeed, Paytm is said to be lining up to join this BigBasket round.

Thanks to Queena Wadyanti for help with the data.

2017 in review - BANNER

This post Alibaba’s biggest investments in 2017 appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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