Supermarket chain Carrefour is expanding further in China's online market, with the launch of e-commerce in the capital Beijing on Thursday.
After its Shanghai debut in June 2015, Carrefour's e-commerce service became available in Beijing via personal computers and mobile applications.
The service will reach residents in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, this summer and the company plans to offer e-commerce "where we have stores," Thierry Garnier, president and CEO of Carrefour China, told a press conference in Beijing.
This is part of the French retail giant's new strategy for its China unit, which announced in March 2015 plans to beef up efforts in new emerging businesses such as online-to-offline (O2O) and convenience stores.
With 228 stores in more than 70 cities in the Chinese mainland, the company plans to open 50 convenience stores in Shanghai this year, said Garnier.
E-commerce business offered by retailers such as Carrefour will face strong headwinds from online rivals, as Alibaba Group Holding started providing same-day grocery delivery via Tmall Supermarket from November 2015, said analysts.
The Chinese e-commerce giant claimed in early April it overtook Wal-Mart Stores Inc to become the world's largest retailer.
Asked about potential competition from Tmall, Garnier declined to comment but said he's confident in the brand awareness of Carrefour among Chinese consumers. Also, Carrefour's model - using physical stores to supply items sold online - will be "very cost-efficient" compared with pure e-commerce companies, Garnier told the Global Times in an exclusive interview Thursday.
Three physical stores in Beijing will supply 15,000 items ordered online, 4,000 of which are imported, ensuring food safety and quality as well as prices consistent with those sold in offline stores, according to a press release sent to the Global Times.
Other multinational bricks-and-mortar retailers are also eyeing China's e-commerce sector, which according to official data had sales of 824.1 billion yuan ($127.2 billion) in the first quarter of 2016, up 25.9 percent year-on-year.
Carrefour's rival Wal-Mart conducted a pilot O2O program in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, in May 2015, according to information on the company's website.
Chen Yuefeng, editor-in-chief of the China Chain Store magazine, did not hold a very optimistic attitude toward the prospects of Carrefour, which he said lacks distinctive edges in comparison with its overseas peers.
"Wal-Mart can tap the delivery and user bases of Yihaodian," a Chinese e-commerce company that was fully acquired by the US supermarket chain operator in July 2015, Chen told the Global Times Thursday.
Germany-based retailer Metro opened its online flagship store on Tmall Global, the marketplace of Alibaba, in September 2015 to help target China's e-commerce.
It is hard for Carrefour, which is already a latecomer, to gain a position in the fiercely competitive e-commerce industry by just relying on its proprietary online marketplaces, Chen noted.
To provide logistical support for its bricks-and-mortar operations and e-commerce business, the company has set a goal of having six distribution centers in the mainland by the end of 2016.
It has already opened four centers in cities including North China's Tianjin.