Jun 12, 2017 06:26 PM

Alibaba Logistics Arm Reaches Out for Parcel Locker Buy-In

(Beijing) — Alibaba’s logistics arm is planning to buy into one of the largest package drop-off and pickup station providers in China, as the nation’s courier information leader edges into the final leg of delivery services.

The firm that operates Sposter, a chain of parcel-retrieval lockers commonly found in apartment complexes, announced a pending deal that would make Alibaba’s Cainiao Networks a key stakeholder, according to a statement by Sposter’s parent company, Chengdu-based Santai Holdings.

The deal would give Cainiao — the logistics-tracking platform 47% owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. that records the movement of goods as they are shipped from the group’s e-commerce merchants — guaranteed access to data-tracked parcels down to the final segment of delivery.

The companies did not release information about the size or scope of the proposed buy-in.

The refrigerator-size parcel lockers are frequently used as drop-off stations by deliverymen when recipients are unable to sign off from their doorsteps. Sposter currently updates the Cainiao tracking platform when the parcel lands in a certain locker, and Cainiao in turn sends out an alert to users’ phones.

This move follows a recent spat over alleged demands by Cainiao for proprietary data from Hive Box, a network of similar drop-off and pickup lockers owned by leading private courier SF Express. c

The temporary cut-off of services between the two earlier this month even led to intervention by the nation’s State Post Bureau, which urged both sides to settle the matter as soon as possible.

Though the dispute was speedily resolved with the government acting as a go-between, the incident revealed Cainiao’s sometimes-intrusive requests for parcel tracking data from private courier firms.

Many of these firms largely rely on delivery orders placed through Alibaba’s e-commerce sites for business and therefore are compelled to satisfy the demands of the tech giant’s affiliate.

Sposter is now the nation’s largest operator of parcel drop-off stations, according to Friday’s filing, with a network of 56,000 stations and 2.6 million individual lockers. By comparison, there are 35,000 Hive Box stations and an estimated 60,000 for all other operators combined.

Locker operators such as Sposter make money chiefly off charges from deliverymen and fees from recipients who do not pick up their parcels within a certain time frame.

Sposter’s parent company, Santai Holdings, has been given an “ST tag” — a status handed down by securities regulators to companies that have had at least two consecutive years of losses — for its three straight years of net losses, and is at risk of delisting. The red ink is a result of its aggressive deployment and subsidizing of Sposter stations, the company said in its annual report.

Santai’s stocks on the Shenzhen exchange have been suspended since April, when the company announced its consideration of a “significant matter.”

Contact reporter April Ma (

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