The Chinese operator of Tmall, which boasts 500 million active shoppers, is set to invest $15 billion over the next three years in research and development for “foundational and disruptive technology” with the launch of the Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook.
There will be seven research bases for the DAMO Academy, with two each located in China and the U.S. and one each in Russia, Israel and Singapore. Opening the labs and recruiting scientist and researchers will be the first phase of the three-year spending plan.
After that, work at the labs will focus on the development of data intelligence, the Internet of Things, financial technology, quantum computing and the study of the interactions between humans and machines. The goal is advancements in machine learning, visual computing and natural language processing, areas that have big implications for the future of consumer-driven industries.
Jeff Zhang, Alibaba’s chief technology officer, who will also be heading up the DAMO Academy, said the company wants to “discover breakthrough technologies that will enable greater efficiency, network security and ecosystem synergy for end-users and businesses everywhere.”
He added that new technology will “spur the growth of Alibaba and our partners” and Alibaba noted that the global scale of the Academy will allow the company to achieve its goal of having two billion customers and 100 million workers within 20 years.
Last month, Alibaba took control of an affiliated logistics company and said it was ready to invest a separate $15 billion in order to make 72-hour delivery worldwide a reality, and president Michael Evans said “facilitating the cross-border opportunities” is what the company wants to be doing most.
Alibaba’s move comes at a time when competition between the biggest retailers, namely Wal-Mart and Amazon, is fiercer than ever.
Wal-Mart for its part on Tuesday told investors that technology development was its top priority, with president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon saying plainly: “We are going to win e-commerce.”
The giant retailer has spent the last several months acquiring a sizable quotient of tech-forward and more youthful brands, starting with Jet.com, whose founder Marc Lore is now president and ceo of Wal-Mart’s U.S. e-commerce arm, and followed by the purchases of Bonobos, Hayneedle, Modcloth, Moosejaw and Shoes.com.
Wal-Mart’s Store No.8 is also being used as a tech incubator with ongoing projects involving on-demand, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
The mega e-tailer in May hired fashion veteran Christine Beauchamp to head up its fashion arm and a deal with luxury beauty player Violet Grey is said to be imminent, while a tie-up with Kohl’s is giving Amazon substantial floor space in its stores and allowing shoppers to drop off returns.
Its push into private label brands is also taking hold and women’s line Lark & Ro has done about $10 million in sales in little more than a year and the $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods has given it about 450 retail locations to alter as it sees fit.
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