More than a decade since it was founded during the short-lived dot-com boom, Tom Group appears to have landed a deal that could anchor its future growth. Tom, the diversified Chinese-language media arm of Li Ka-shing's business empire, last week announced a joint-venture agreement with China Post that aims to create the mainland's biggest e-commerce services provider. That venture, Beijing Ule E-Commerce, will be formally unveiled in the capital today, creating an industry benchmark for the fast-growing online retail market. Its potential is certainly huge, based on the sheer scale of China Post's existing infrastructure. It is the kind of nationwide set-up that major domestic shopping platforms, such as Taobao and Amazon China, do not possess. With a network of 46,000 post offices, 36,000 Postal Savings Bank branches, 150,000 workers, 56,000 delivery vehicles and 17 aircraft, China Post will provide the sales channels, warehousing, logistics support and transaction fulfilment for its 51 per cent-owned joint venture. 'E-commerce is a natural step forward for China Post,' Tom chief executive Ken Yeung Kwok-mung said. 'The joint venture will target a lot of brand-name manufacturers that do not have the capacity to do e-commerce across the country or in a specific city or region.' Launch customers of the Ule shopping platform will be led by Nike, Adidas, Samsung Electronics, Avon, Shiseido, Giordano and LG Electronics. Tom, through its Shenzhen New ECLink subsidiary, is the joint venture's exclusive information-technology systems provider. It has also committed to investing 200 million yuan (HK$229.38 million) in marketing and promoting the Ule platform nationwide. Yeung said he was well aware of what critics, and possibly competitors, were saying about the venture on various mainland blog posts. 'They doubt that a state-owned enterprise like China Post can execute this strategy. They said China Post knew logistics, but didn't know e-commerce. They also doubt Tom will be able to leverage all these resources,' Yeung said. 'They will be surprised.' Analyst Chen Shousong of research firm Analysys International said China Post, apart from its logistics expertise, 'has the advantage of call-centre operations and strong distribution outlets that cover difficult-to-reach lower-tier cities and rural areas'. 'Tom also has a good understanding of online shoppers based on its experience with Eachnet.' Eachnet is the only mainland e-commerce platform that offers imported Taiwanese food products through a deal with the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. Tom runs the site, which was originally acquired by eBay in 2003, under a 2006 joint venture with the US online auctions giant. However, Chen said the China Post-Tom venture 'will not have a significant impact in the short term on the domestic online retail sector', which is forecast this year to reach 404.8 billion yuan - about 2.85 per cent of the country's total retail market. More than 1,000 China Post outlets in 18 cities across Henan province will initially support the Ule shopping platform. Goods from more than 1,500 merchants can be bought, accessed through a phone-order service hotline and through gift cards distributed nationwide. Yeung said the market might have had some difficulty grasping Tom's vision as it made strategic acquisitions, secured key alliances and fine-tuned operations over the past 10 years, but that was about to change. How Tom employs all its expertise in the new joint venture may help forge its identity over the long term. 'We have an opportunity to open up China Post's resources to the rest of the world,' Yeung said.