In an attempt to integrate online and offline shopping without building its own physical stores, Alibaba has been on a lookout for buying stake in companies. The Chinese e-commerce giant has bought more than one-third stake in one of Chinese most prolific operators of hypermarket stores, Sun Art Retail Group.

The firm announced that it has spent HK$22.4 billion (around US$2.88 billion) to acquire of 36.16 percent in this Hong Kong-listed business. Sun Art has a market cap of over US$10 billion and operates 446 hypermarkets across 224 cities in mainland China. According to Reuters, Alibaba has invested more than $9.3bn in bricks and mortar stores since 2015.

Ruentex that sold its share to Alibaba will retain a 4.67 share and the French retailer Auchan Retail owns 36.18 percent.

Alibaba bought a 35 percent slice of department store operator InTime in 2014 and took the company private in January this year. Alibaba also acquired 20 percent of retail giant Suning for $4.6 billion in 2015. In May earlier this year, it invested in supermarket brand Lianhua.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in a statement, “Physical stores serve an indispensable role during the consumer journey, and should be enhanced through data-driven technology and personalized services in the digital economy. By fully integrating online and physical channels together with our partners, we look forward to delivering an original and delightful shopping experience to Chinese consumers.”

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