The ‘Car Vending Machines’ are futuristic buildings that look like a gigantic version of something you’d find in Toys “R” Us. Alibaba has made a push to integrate its online sales platforms with offline retail, including a recent $2.9 billion investment in hypermarket operator Sun Art, but this new project is one of the clearest examples of its strategy to date.
The process starts when a customer uses Alibaba’s Taobao app to scan a car that they want to test, and potentially buy. The customer then heads over the unmanned vending machine facility and, after showing their face, their order is retrieved and the car is dispatched. Alibaba said it will open two stores in January, one in Shanghai and the other in Nanjing.
Allowing anyone to just take a car for three days is risky business and, alongside some T&Cs such as a limit of five test-drives per two months, Alibaba is relying on its own financial services to vet and identify who is borrowing the vehicles.
Users only qualify for a free test drive if they have reached a certain level on its Zhima credit-scoring service, while they must also be Alibaba Super Members.
Vending machine car showrooms aren’t a new concept.