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Central Group, which operates Central Food Hall and various formats under the Tops banner, has invested US$200 M in Grab Thailand. Grab Holdings Inc is Southeast Asia’s leading online to offline mobile platform with parcel delivery, car hailing and food delivery services.

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Since the official launch of the JD Central website about a week ago, more plans have been revealed by the new joint venture between Chinese online specialist JD and Thailand’s Central Group.

The ecommerce platform

JD Central offers products from 4,000 brands, including mobile phones, food, home accessories and apparel. During the three-month trial, orders on the new platform increased 15-fold. Vincent Yang, JD Central’s CEO, said just 2 per cent of orders were returned and there was a 50 per cent repurchase rate by customers. Four out of every five customers accessed the site via mobile.

JD Central remains very positive on the growth potential of ecommerce in Thailand. The company aims to be Thailand’s largest online retailer by 2020. 

Unmanned stores

JD Central is looking into locations suitable for testing an unmanned store, where customers could enter the store and make payments using facial recognition software. JD.com has tested these technologies in its 7Fresh supermarket in China.

Autonomous warehouse robots

JD Central is also considering other technologies to reduce costs and improve efficiency, such as autonomous robots to replace humans in warehouses. The company will need to get approval to use robots and autonomous delivery vehicles in Thailand. 

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JD.com and Central Group have officially launched a new website under JD Central in Thailand.

Positive consumer interest at soft launch

JD CENTRAL offers both direct sales and marketplace models. Online orders has exceeded expectations by 15 times since it was first opened for testing in June. About 80% of shoppers accessed the site through their mobile phones to buy FMCG products, mobile phones and fashion items in the pre-launch phase. Chinese brands like Xiaomi, Huawei, OnePlus and Lenovo were especially sought after.

Joint venture supported by integrated logistics

The retailer is confident about offering 100% authentic products on its platform and a fast delivery with seamless online to offline integration. It has plans to support the growth by bringing the number of its warehouses from two to five within this year. The new service will offer same-day delivery service by 2019.

Vincent Yang, JD Central CEO, said, "with the launch of JD CENTRAL, we are delighted to be taking another exciting step forward in JD's ongoing journey to serve customers throughout Southeast Asia. Our partnership with Central Group – a one-of-a-kind union between China’s biggest retailer and Thailand’s strongest retail player – will provide Thai customers with a truly world-class e-commerce experience and guarantee 100% product authenticity."

Online growth to accelerate 

JD.com already has an estabilished e-commerce platform in Indonesia and a strategic investment in Tiki.com in Vietnam. This launch will broaden JD.com's footprint in Asia. As JD CENTRAL will be listed on JD.com's international website, participating brands and retailers will also get exposure to sell to a massive Chinese customer base.

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With an investment of US$500M, Central Group Vietnam aims to triple its Vietnamese business in the next five years.

New formats to draw shoppers

The retailer has tested the market with Hello Beauty cosmetics shop, Home Mart general merchandise shop, and LookKool gift shop which has expanded to 26 locations. These new shops will open within its Big C malls to draw traffic to its hypermarket first, and will expand to other malls in the future.

Philippe Broianigo, Central Group Vietnam CEO, said, "We are very strong in Vietnam in food business which is the primary need of consumers, but we are also preparing for the future, for the needs consumers are going to have [beyond] food."

About Central Group Vietnam

Central Group Vietnam is a multi-format retailer including hypermarkets and supermarkets, convenience stores and shopping malls. It has a joint-venture with Nguyen Kim, an electronics retailer. It is also involved in hospitality management, sporting goods, fashion stores and other international brands in Vietnam.

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Central Group will invest US$512m in Vietnam over the next five years. The company currently operates Robins department stores, Big C hypermarkets and Lanchi Mart wholesale market, totalling to 160 stores in the country. It also has 49% share of local electronics retailer Nguyen Kim. Most of the investment will be in food and electronics, with the rest of the investment in shopping malls, hotel management and stationary shops.

Vietnam seen as a strong market for growth

The company is allocating a small amount of investment in Vietnam this year because it is focusing its efforts on reorganising Big C's management, which it has just acquired in 2016. CEO of Central Group Tos Chirathivat says, "the signs have been good. Sales of Big C in Vietnam in July grew by 11%". There are plans to open 20 Big C hypermarkets and Lanchi Marts, on top of 20 shopping centres next year.

Central is aiming for 20-30% annual growth in Vietnam. The company is also interested in building a hotel in Ho Chih Minh city in the future.

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