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Alibaba-Wanda face-off no longer skin-deep

Once-distinct portfolios blurring as they move into each other's turf

[BEIJING] China's former richest man Wang Jianlin once bet Alibaba founder Jack Ma 100 million yuan (S$20.8 million) that online purchases in the country would not eclipse bricks-and-mortar buys in the next decade.

But while Mr Wang says he laid the wager "for fun" two years ago, the billionaires' business interests are increasingly converging as Chinese consumers' spending habits undergo a seismic shift - and much larger sums are at stake.

China has the world's biggest population of Internet users, with annual online sales jumping 41 per cent in 2013. However, that figure represents a paltry 7.8 per cent of overall retail sales, leaving plenty of room for growth.

Zhuo Saijun, a Beijing-based analyst...

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