Alibaba: Unlocking the China Opportunity

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Thursday this week, around 700 retailers and brands met with Alibaba for a day focussing on unlocking the China Opportunity. The main aim of the day was to introduce British businesses to Alibaba, who’s goal is to make it easy for British companies to do business in and with China.

The day started out with David Lloyd, General Manager of UK, Netherlands and Nordics for the Alibaba group giving an overview of the massive business groups that make up Alibaba. He set up the three main segments of the business which comprise of commerce, mobile media and entertainment and local services.

Angel Zhao, President of Alibaba Global Business Group talked about the overall vision of Alibaba and she was followed by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Chair of the China-Britain Business Council who talked more about the history of China and their importance in the world. Sir Sherard talked about how China has seen many hardships in previous years but are rapidly accelerating to be a global player and, in his view, taking their position in commerce which is fully justified by the size of the country. It should be no surprise to see China becoming an essential part of ecommerce and he says unquestionably retailers should selling to China, not as an after thought but as a key strategy for the future.

But before getting into the nuts and bolts of trading with China, why Alibaba? Just on TaoBao and Tmall, 800 million Chinese consumers visit these sites which dwarfs the number of customers western marketplaces attract. Even more crucial, the average user goes to Alibaba 7 times a day. Think about your favourite retailer or marketplace – how many times a day do you visit them? Chinese consumers are spending almost half an hour every day on Alibaba – not just buying but also browsing and connecting with brands. Alibaba, in their media offering, are the equivalent of the Chinese YouTube and part of the China opportunity to getting in front of these consumers.

Alibaba aim to help businesses of all sizes to sell to China and one company highlighted on the day was British SmoothSkin, who make a laser hair removal product. They’ve seen huge success on Alibaba through taking the right approach and the Chinese segment of their business is massive.

This leads into the next point which is that it’s not just enough to have product. Chinese consumers love Brand Britain and simply by being based in the United Kingdom is an advantage not to be overlooked. Close to half a million Chinese visit Britain each year and there are two things they love to do – visit the likes of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and go shopping.

Harrods have positioned themselves as a go to destination for Chinese tourists accepting AliPay instore and ensuring tax (VAT) rebates can be automatically given when tourists return home. By offering AliPay, retailers are effectively signalling that they are open for business as this is the favourite payment method for the Chinese.

Most important of all, to attack China you need to be a brand. We’ve seen the success in the West of retailers who can convey their brand stories on Instagram and it’s even more important in China. If you want to take advantage of the China opportunity you first need your brand story and then access the expertise to convey this brand story to the Chinese consumer.

If you’re interested in the China opportunity, make 2020 the year that you engage with Alibaba and start telling your brand story to the Chinese.

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