[HONG KONG] For years, Pinduoduo Inc (PDD) had little clue about the whereabouts of millions of parcels delivered every day to its shoppers' doorsteps. Now it's finally getting ready to take back control of that valuable data - from Alibaba.
China's No 3 e-commerce platform has since its inception relied on much larger Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and its Cainiao unit to track and handle some US$70 billion of annual shipments, meaning its rival enjoyed an unparalleled overview of PDD's nationwide activity and customers' shopping habits. That's finally changing thanks to PDD's new in-house shipping information technology, said David Liu, Pinduoduo's vice-president of strategy.
Beyond freeing itself from a dependence on its rival, PDD's approach presents a threat to Alibaba's dominance of Chinese e-commerce shipping data, mined by companies in industries from retail to healthcare for insights into consumer behaviour. It's a lead built starting back in 2014, when Cainiao pioneered a so-called e-waybill system that tracks goods via shipping labels, and that shares real-time locations. That innovation became the de facto standard, adopted by couriers from SF Express to ZTO and helping Alibaba's own shopping sites operate more efficiently.
"It's key for us to grasp this data," PDD's Mr Liu said in an interview after the company unveiled stronger-than-expected quarterly results. "All the third-party logistics companies have welcomed us as another platform that brings some checks and balances in the industry."
Pinduoduo has grown to such a scale it wants to wrest back its own logistics data. The shopping app - known for cheap deals and gamified experiences - is luring new users from China's rising middle-class. In June, customers from Tier 1 and 2 cities contributed almost half of Pinduoduo's gross merchandise volume, or value of goods sold, up from 37 per cent in January. On Wednesday, it reported a 169 per cent leap in revenue for the June quarter, triggering a 15 per cent share surge.
PDD's in-house system now hooks up and shares information, such as unique identifiers for individual products, between merchants, couriers and shoppers. In March, the Shanghai-based online retailer launched its own variant of Cainiao's system and as of now, almost all orders generated on PDD's platform - an average of 40 million per day - have migrated to the new system, Mr Liu said.
"For any e-commerce platform, logistics is a very important part of creating a good shopping experience," said Shawn Yang, a Shenzhen-based analyst with Blue Lotus Capital. "Pinduoduo wants to provide cheap delivery and better service, otherwise Alibaba will have a huge edge over it."
Pinduoduo isn't charging fees for its e-waybills for now. In the long run, Mr Liu said, the company could monetise by helping merchants use Pinduoduo's data to lower delivery costs. While Pinduoduo won't build its own warehouses or fleet, it will invest in technologies like AI-powered routing to create an "asset-light" logistics network, PDD founder and chief executive Colin Huang told analysts on a conference call after announcing earnings.