Alibaba’s Ambitious Agenda

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Alibaba chairman Jack Ma makes a speech last year during the Singles’ Day Global Shopping Festival in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province of China. 2016 Singles day recorded over $17 billion in sales.

On November 11, China will celebrate Singles’ Day. The holiday, also called Bachelors’ Day, originated in the early 1990’s and evolved into an occasion for single men and women to celebrate together. The name Singles’ Day connotes the four single 1’s in the annual November 11th date (11/11).

Today, Singles Day is known less for its original purpose and has instead become a massive online shopping event, which dwarfs similar events. Just as Hallmark became linked to Valentine’s Day, Singles’ Day is now synonymous with Alibaba, an e-commerce platform based in China. During Singles’ Day, Alibaba partners with thousands of brands and merchants in a remarkable one-day promotional event. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, advertises Singles’ Day as a day to be proud of your “singleness” and treat yourself to a myriad of products on sale. Last year on Singles’ Day Alibaba’s online payment system recorded $14.3 billion in sales, nearly triple Black Friday sales and more than four times Cyber Monday sales. 

For the past decade, Alibaba has been the dominant online sales force in China, regularly outpacing both international and local competitors. Unlike Amazon, Alibaba does not sell or ship goods; instead, they act as an online market. They are paid for space and services on their website to merchants’ online storefronts. Currently, Alibaba’s e-commerce website, Tmall, consists of over half of e-commerce sales in China. In addition, Alibaba has invested in many offline partnerships with merchants. This coming Singles’ Day, Alibaba will service over 600,000 convenience stores and 30,000 rural service centers.

Alibaba’s growing consumer market and innovative marketing style could pave the way for Jack Ma’s global ambitions. Over the past year, Ma has reportedly spent nearly 800 hours flying to foreign countries to introduce his vision for the company. His goal is to have small global businesses trade into the Chinese and other countries’ markets using Alibaba’s platform. Ma projects that in 2037, Alibaba will be servicing two billion customers worldwide, resulting in Alibaba itself becoming the world’s fifth largest economy.

To become a global commerce superpower, Alibaba needs to act quickly to beat out other competitors, such as Amazon. Teng Binghseng, a professor of strategic management at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business says, “globalization is better done now than later.” To improve international relations, Ma recently visited Detroit to speak in front of thousands of U.S. small business owners. He made it clear that Alibaba can be the bridge to millions of Chinese consumers. Contrary to Amazon, Alibaba will service these business owners by creating a platform for them to sell.

Alibaba President Michael Evans recently said, “We are very different from Amazon. We create the infrastructure of commerce, the platform, the technology and the partnerships to make it possible for millions of small businesses to participate successfully in global trade. We are doing our business on a far greater scale and in an inclusive manner.” Alibaba’s goal of global marketplace domination has already taken significant steps. As of late, they have expanded into the Indian and Southeast Asian markets.

Alibaba still has a long way to go before they become a global commerce engine. Presently, the company’s biggest issue is the circulation of counterfeit goods on their platforms. Ma has pledged to work with law enforcement and use data tracking to rid the platform of this problem. Despite slower growth in its international businesses, Evans has said that the company is on track to reach its goal of generating 40% of its revenue internationally in the next 10 years. As Ma’s vision evolves, it becomes increasingly more plausible that November 11 becomes a global holiday, including in the United States.