There has been no shortage of change recently at Alibaba. The Chinese-based ecommerce powerhouse split into six units earlier this year and saw former chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang take a step back from his top role to lead the Alibaba Cloud business before leaving that position in a surprise exit earlier this month.
Now with Joseph Tsai as the new chairman and Eddie Wu as the new CEO, Alibaba Group is reshaping its strategies and priorities. In a letter shared soon after he took over the business, Wu envisioned a "user first" and "AI-driven" future to “reinforce strategic investments in three areas: technology-driven internet platforms, AI-driven tech businesses and the global commerce network.”
The commitment to Alibaba's global business is important, given how geopolitical tensions and the pandemic in recent years have placed strains on it. In a statement to employees, Wu said that globalisation now is “more about establishing a global commerce network with infrastructure and ecosystems to help more Chinese and global SMEs to explore opportunities worldwide”.
Alibaba.com's global B2B mission
One of Alibaba Group's businesses where we can see this company playing such a global support role for SMEs is Alibaba.com, the Group's very first business founded 24 years ago before the brand became a flagship ecommerce platform in China. Alibaba.com is a B2B platform, now part of Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group.
Earlier this month, the business proceeded to hold its largest in-person live event in over two decades in the United States, namely its Co-Create conference in Las Vegas, where Alibaba.com introduced new AI-enhanced B2B sourcing tools for SMEs.
"We haven’t encountered any specific challenges in organising events here in the US," Alibaba.com's global CMO, Liz Wang tells Campaign. "For Co-create, we received over 1,300 attendee registrations, which demonstrates the popularity of the event.”
Explaining how the US, Europe and Southeast Asia are key markets for their buyers, Wang says "for merchants, their supply chain is getting more globalised and diversified” despite past disruptions.
In particular, Wang has noticed strong growth momentum “from food and beverage in Europe, home and furniture, as well as hardware and machinery industries, especially for Italy and Turkey. Meanwhile, beauty in South Korea and Turkey, apparel and outdoor and sports for Pakistan and India are all key sectors to support growth in Asia-Pacific.”
For Wang and her team, Co-Create does not merely aim to connect their buyers and merchants, but is a stage to present Alibaba's AI-driven support technology.
The brand new tools package launched during Co-Create includes a smart assistant tool that interacts like an intuitive personal guide, upgraded image searching, smart enhancements to request for quotation (RFQ), real-time translation in 17 languages for live video chats and an enhanced version of the 24/7 live Alibaba.com Logistics Marketplace to improve supply chain management and product delivery.
Solving sourcing problems
While any sort of AI-driven capabilities tend to attract attention these days, Wang tells Campaign that it's been more important for them to focus on enhancements that solve B2B sourcing problems.
Based on Aliababa.com’s most recent survey of over 300 SMEs, 31% struggle with finding the right supplier, 28% encounter difficulties with research, development, and design, and 27% face financing hurdles when placing orders. Supply chain and sourcing stay as top concerns for SME owners. 46% have challenges with their supply chain and/or sourcing systems. 38% believe the global supply chain outlook will have a negative impact on their business.
“Our main goal is to provide buyers and merchants with suitable tools and products that genuinely support them," Wang says. "When they find our platform helpful and experience high-quality services, they naturally choose to join us." So, “the key factor in deciding which technologies to use is whether they effectively address the needs of our users and enhance efficiency while maintaining user-friendliness”.
The attention to B2B pain points may be paying off as global commerce picks up in the post-pandemic world with more than 90% of industries experiencing rapid growth in online exports. The number of active buyers on Alibaba.com grew 33% year-on-year in the first half of 2023, Wang says, with 91% of world markets, including the US, showing a rise in online traffic on the platform.
By helping to solve supply chain disruptions, Alibaba.com's work ultimately helps Alibaba's retail commerce business, which in turn has virtuous reciprocal effect on the B2B business.
In Alibaba Group's latest quarterly financial reports, Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group highlighted the bounce back and solid performance from all major retail platforms, AliExpress, Lazada, and Trendyol, as the primary driver of its growth, around 60% year-over-year, while its international wholesale business remained flat in the quarter.
Wang notes Alibaba.com was able to maintain “pretty good” levels of business even during the pandemic, partially because their tools are catering to solving supply chain pain points.
Getting the word out
As CMO, Wang also supervises numerous campaigns across the globe, telling the brand stories of Alibaba.com.
A recent campaign she is most proud of is a buyer’s story about bamboo toothbrushes from the new campaign series, Will Meets Way, launched before Co-Create.
In this story, the owner of Pachamama brand of bamboo toothbrushes searches to find the right supplier, a women-owned and family-run factory, on Alibaba.com. The website supports the business and connects the buyer and supplier to produce bamboo toothbrushes that help reduce the use of plastic ones. Along the way, Pachamama focuses on every single detail in the supply chain to sustainability innnovate, ultimately benefiting multiple causes, including ocean conservation, saving the bees, LGBTQ+ equality, women’s rights and mental health awareness.