BEIJING:  Alibaba is extending its service offer to support China’s primary care system, and using its immense reach to solve resource inequality between regions and bring a new standard of care through online doctor consultations.

Alibaba Group, the New York-listed company with particular interests in e-commerce and payments technology, is rolling out a 24-hour medicine delivery service and online medical consultations. The South China Morning Post, which reported the news (and is owned by Alibaba), said the move was part of the company’s online-to-offline New Retail Strategy.

The New Retail Strategy aims to integrate online and offline shopping experiences seamlessly. Its first iteration was through the Hema supermarkets, which the company released in 2015. Customers are able to eat in-store, order groceries for home delivery, and do regular shopping, all through an Alipay-connected app. The company’s proprietary payment technology enjoys a national market share of 54%, according to an FT report from July.

Health is the latest element of the company’s offer to become part of the strategy. The feature will live on the company’s Taobao Marketplace platform and will allow users to search for advice or medication through the search function. Searching “need medicine urgently,” (jiyongyao in Mandarin), takes users to a medical landing page with options to buy over-the-counter drugs, or to access medical advice. Any medical orders placed will arrive within 30 minutes during the day, and an hour if ordered at night. Deliveries will begin in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered.

The move to health is timely. Just weeks ago, Tencent announced Tencent Doctorwork, a merger with a health network startup called Trusted Doctors. The WeChat owner hopes to carve out a serious niche in the online and offline healthcare spaces. There is a significant opportunity for a private company to move into primary care, as China has seen an increase of chronic diseases, while the country also suffers from a shortage of doctors (2.22:1000) relative to the international average (3.19:1000).

Last year, Alibaba showed that it was making a move toward the online health insurance space by offering Alipay users an incremental insurance pot that accrues with each payment made on the service. Gaining a foothold in China’s online health insurance market means a stake in a market forecast to be worth as much as 5 trillion RMB by 2020.

Around the same time, CNBC reported that another e-commerce giant, Amazon, had begun hiring for its Professional Healthcare Program, in a response to the increase in high-deductible plans and a trend toward US consumers paying for healthcare.

Sourced from, Financial Times, EY, CNBC; additional content by WARC staff