If one CEO's outlook holds up, offline retailers may have a very limited future.
The consumer will deal directly with a manufacturer, potentially leaving out retailers, predicts Chen Xiaodong, CEO of Intime, an e-commerce platform run by Alibaba.
"Before, the controlling rights belonged to the retailer, but in the future it will shift to the manufacturer," Chen told CNBC's Arjun Kharpal. "The consumer will still be there, the manufacturer will still be there, but we need to consider who will be between these parties?"
A department store or a shopping mall will become a warehouse in the future, Chen said.
Chen was speaking at CNBC's East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China, where overseas and Chinese tech leaders have gathered to discuss the future of artificial intelligence, financial technology, cybersecurity, blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies.