By Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, July 20 (Reuters) - Chinese Starbucks customers can order the coffee chain's drinks on Alibaba's Taobao marketplace and mobile map apps, Reuters checks showed, in a sign the two companies may be expanding a partnership signed in 2018.
The innovations also coincide with efforts to kickstart sales as the Chinese economy recovers from the impact of lockdowns to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and as big U.S. companies see China as their best option for growth regardless of mounting political tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Users of Alibaba Group Holding's BABA.N popular Taobao e-commerce platform, and its mobile mapping and navigation service Amap, can use apps to place a drink order they then collect at a store.
Alipay, the online payment app run by Alibaba affiliate Ant Group, and its local service platform Koubei also offers the same online order and in-store pick-up option as well as delivery services.
Previously, pre-order for an in-store pickup feature, called Starbucks NOW, was only available on Starbucks' own App.
However, customers could also order deliveries via Alibaba's food delivery app Ele.me under a partnership the two companies signed in 2018, marking the first time Starbucks Corp SBUX.O offered a formal online delivery service in China.
Alibaba and Starbucks declined to comment on Monday.
Starbucks has said it expects sales in China, its biggest growth market, to recover by the end of September from a deep drop because of the pandemic.
Its online push contrasts with the declining fortunes of local rival Luckin Coffee Inc LK.O whose store numbers outnumbered Starbucks in China earlier this year until a setback caused by a fraud scandal.
In May, Starbucks also launched a mini-programme with Alibaba's rival Tencent Holdings 0700.HK on its chat app WeChat, allowing access to Starbucks' membership rights and take-out services.
(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; editing by Barbara Lewis)
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