Bloomberg reported yesterday that Alibaba plans to purchase the roughly-60 percent of Ele.me that it currently doesn’t own from the other investors, which include search giant Baidu. TechCrunch has confirmed that with sources close to Alibaba, who told us that a proposal to buy the remaining stakes was submitted to investors yesterday.
Alibaba first invested in Ele.me in 2016 and it doubled down to lead a $1 billion investment last year. Ele.me consolidated its position as one of China’s largest food on-demand platforms when it picked up Baidu’s rival business back in August, which explains how Baidu became an investor.
The acquisition could value Ele.me at as much a $9.5 billion, according to Bloomberg, and the deal would be significant since it would once again pit Alibaba against its key rival Tencent.
While Alibaba’s core business is e-commerce and Tencent’s is online content and messaging, the two have overlapped into a myriad of verticals, each time coming up against each other either through startups they have invested in or independent business unit they own.
Tencent tends to favor the investment approach while Alibaba has bought businesses outright — including Weibo, Youku Tudou and UC Web.
In the food delivery case, Tencent’s horse is Meituan Dianping, the local services business formed when China’s two largest on-demand platforms came together via a 2015 merger. To add additional complication to that, Alibaba and Tencent briefly both held stakes in the merged entity since Alibaba backed Meituan and Tencent previously put money into Dianping. Alibaba moved to sell its share of Meituan Dianping in early 2017, leaving it free to double down on Ele.me as it did last year.
Assuming Alibaba is successful with its latest offer, Ele.me will form part of its ‘new retail’ push that’s designed to combine the best of e-commerce with offline retail. The company has bought expensive stakes in physical retail stores and opened its own hybrid retail locations. Ele.me is a more obvious venture that connects restaurants with customers using the internet/its app.