Tmall.com, the business-to-consumer platform owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, rolled out a financing service on Wednesday to help car purchasers in China get unsecured loans of up to 60,000 yuan ($9,606).
The new service underscored the Hangzhou-based e-commerce conglomerate’s strong ambition to conquer a new sector – the online car market.
Tmall has gained fame mainly through the sales of clothes and shoes online.
“China is the world’s largest car market with a total sales of more than 20 million units last year. The number of cars sold through online platforms is quite small compared with the giant size of the market,” said Wang Licheng, a senior executive of Tmall, which allows brands to sell directly to customers.
Vehicle shoppers can apply for interest-free loans that allow them to pay off their balances over as long as 18 months, depending on their shopping records and creditworthiness on Tmall and Taobao, Alibaba’s online marketplace.
The program is the latest move by Alibaba to leverage its strengths in data and finance to tap into new markets. On Tuesday, Alibaba introduced a program that provides loans to small and medium-sized enterprises in China.
The car loan program is run by the Small and Micro Financial Services Group, a company spun out of Alibaba Group that includes Alipay. It operates the popular Yu’ebao money market fund. Rather than funding the loans itself, Small and Micro Financial Services acts as an intermediary to verify the creditworthiness of loan applicants.
During a promotion from July 25 to Aug 11 last year, 17 vehicle brands with Tmall.com storefronts sold 3,400 cars valued at 80 million yuan through the website.
However, most of the online vehicle transactions do not really qualify as pure e-commerce, because the buyers generally make down payments online, then go to physical locations to make the remaining payments, said Pan Wei, analyst with the Beijing-based Internet consultancy Analysys International.
There are many online platforms that aim to build automobile e-commerce “empires”, but most merely serve as online media outlets that feed vehicle-related information to potential buyers, said Pan.
Autohome Inc, a leading online portal for vehicle information, formed a strategic partnership with JD.com, Alibaba’s largest competitor in China, in June to develop automobile e-commerce and to facilitate real transactions online.
Pan said that Alibaba enjoys a strong advantage in automobile e-commerce as it has integrated financing service on its online platform.
“But the move doesn’t guarantee a promising future as most people still aren’t used to buying high-priced items such as cars online,” he said, adding that it will take a lot of time for consumers to form this habit and for online retailers to create new methods to increase user loyalty.