Wanda Targets Quadrupling China Malls in Rebuff to E-Commerce

  • Billionaire Wang bets ‘experience retail’ to blunt e-commerce
  • Plans include adding mini-theme parks to draw shoppers

Wang Jianlin

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin vowed to quadruple the size of his shopping-mall empire, betting that retailers will thwart the advance of e-commerce competitors by adding entertaining experiences in stores and mini-theme parks.

The Dalian Wanda Group Co. chairman plans to have 1,000 shopping malls covering more than 90 percent of China’s cities within a decade, according to a transcript of remarks he made at a business event released by the company. The entertainment to property conglomerate will also introduce small theme parks to commercial facilities and focus on using artificial intelligence in future developments.

Wang’s expansion target suggests he’s sticking to his plan to focus on domestic investments after government scrutiny of overseas deals and financing for China’s largest dealmakers led Wanda to sell off some projects and cancel planned foreign acquisitions. Wang disposed theme park and hotel assets for more than $9 billion in July amid pressure from the government to curb debt.

Wanda has also said it’s shifting to an asset-light strategy in which it would build and operate malls owned by other investors or companies. He didn’t say whether the plan to add more malls to the 233 it currently has would be an asset-light operation.

Wang spoke at an event hosted by retail giant Suning Holdings Group Co. in China’s Jiangsu province on Tuesday. Wang’s conglomerate will have “large-scale” cooperation with Suning next year, he said, without elaborating.

Wanda’s hotel unit said earlier this month that it’s looking at options for its property projects stretching from Sydney to Chicago, after a newspaper reported that the Chinese group had approached potential investors about unloading five overseas developments for about $5 billion.

— With assistance by Dave McCombs

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