This article was originally published in Chinese on MW’s Wechat platform, and translated into English by the MW team.
Ever since China’s JD.com and Thailand’s retail giant Central Group embarked on an ecommerce joint venture in September 2017, there have been rumours and analyses that the duo will eventually part ways.
According to a news report by The Standard , a Thai-language business news site, Central Group is likely to minimize its involvement in this joint venture, and remove its name from ‘JD Central’. Trusted sources have also revealed to The Standard that Central Group may divest entirely in the joint venture.
The same sources also said that JD Central would have to change its name to JD Commerce, if Central Group decides to divest entirely. Amongst the JD Central senior management, executives who came from Central Group have already left. The Chinese and Thai executives who remained are all hired by JD.
The contract between the JD and Central Group is valid for five years, and after the contract has matured, either one of the parties can acquire the entire equity from the other party. The shares of the joint venture were divided equally in 50:50, and the expected sum of initial investment was 175 billion baht (5 billion USD). Their initial goal, stated in 2017, was to become the largest e-commerce platform in Thailand.
According to reliable sources, the negotiation between JD and Central group accelerated and both parties signed the contract shortly after Alibaba invested in the Indonesian e-commerce platform, Tokopedia, in August 2017.
Central group’s retail assets comprise Central Pattana, which operate across 36 shopping malls with a total area size of 1.9 million square meters, as well as Robinsons Department Stores, amongst others.
Nevertheless, compared to the CP group who owns and operates assets across various industries such as telecommunications, automobile, finance, in addition to agricultural products and retail (including 7-Eleven), the market structure of the Central Group is considered relatively simple.
In 2016, Ant Group invested in Ascend Money, a digital financial business group under CP. This has subsequently led to dominant traditional banks in Thailand, such as Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikorn Bank, investing, incubating and building more digital businesses including cryptocurrency exchange platforms and food delivery services. They are at the forefront of banks moving into digital in Southeast Asia.
Dolfin, a joint fintech business between JD and Central Group seems to have withdrawn from the market – True Money under Ascend Money, LinePay by Line, ShopeePay by Shopee, and GrabPay by Grab are the only relevant remaining players in the E-wallet and digital finance markets in Thailand.
Partnering with JD is not the only possible ecommerce venture for the Central Group. In 2016, Central Group acquired the Thailand business of Zalora, a fashion ecommerce platform incubated by Rocket Internet, at a comparatively low price and has changed its name to LOOKSI.
In early 2020, Central Group sold LOOKSI to an online ecommerce startup Pomelo. The price and reason of this transaction have not been revealed.
Data from the government filings indicates, JD Central’s financial performance as follows:
- 2017: Revenue of 520 thousand baht, loss of 4 million baht
- 2018: Revenue 458 million baht, loss 944 million baht
- 2019: Revenue 1.285 billion baht, loss 1.343 billion baht
- 2020: Revenue 3.492 billion baht, loss 1.376 billion baht
- 2021: Revenue 7.443 billion baht, loss 1.93 billion baht
In other words, JD has suffered a loss of 5.6 billion baht (about 0.16 billion USD) in the past 5 years. In the following year of 2021, Lazada’s business in Thailand recorded a profit of 227 million baht, while Shopee’s business in Thailand recorded a loss of 4.973 billion baht.
After withdrawing from the joint venture, Central Group will be focusing on its Central App. Central App has just celebrated its 8th birthday and currently has 4 million registered users.
In fact, if the goals, interests, ways of doing things and organizational structure of both parties are not aligned, it will be rather challenging to maintain a long-term partnership. In 2016-2017, many large consortia in Southeast Asia collaborated with large Chinese manufacturers with the intention to learn and gain more experience, to prevent their large offline business from being overridden by other competitors.
Additionally, in recent years, the threat of being surpassed and overtaken by rising competitors is not as strong as before, regardless of whether the large corporations are doing well or not.