Mark Tanner

Looking Beyond Alibaba for Sales in China

2017/06/28 Mark Tanner
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Last week Alibaba hosted their first conference outside of China – Gateway 17 in Detroit. China Skinny was there.

Jack Ma has long had a personal dream of cracking the US and with plenty of cash in the coffers, Alibaba was out to dazzle the audience. Jack Ma was joined by Martha Stewart, Lisa Ling, Charlie Rose and robots, backed up with an arsenal of big statistics and some sage advice to entice more American businesses to export to China.

The focus of Gateway 17 was to sell the Alibaba dream, yet exporters would be wise to consider the multitude of other options when planning a market entry into China. For big brands, a presence on Alibaba is an essential hygiene factor for both sales and marketing.  Marketing on Alibaba’s platforms is becoming more powerful with new tools such as the Uni Marketing system offering features such as personalised and targeted communications.

Whilst there are great success stories on Tmall and Tmall Global, the platforms aren’t right for every brand.  It is not cheap to set up and operate, and new stores are competing with over 10 million other vendors who are often well established. Smaller brands may also have difficulty being accepted by Alibaba.

Alibaba has a finely tuned sales machine attracting foreign brands to its platforms.  It has set up offices across North America, Europe and Australasia, has shiny campus tours for visiting delegations and now hosts overseas events to woo Western brands to its cross border channels.  Yet with all the good news stories, there are some cautionary factors.  For example, Tmall Global’s sales drive saw the number of brands selling on the platform grow 169% last year, with sales growing just 30% – a similar rate to ecommerce overall.  In short, there are many more foreign brands competing for a smaller piece of pie.

Cross border commerce is also much more fragmented than Mainland based commerce.  Alibaba commands around 80% of overall ecommerce sales in China and 57% of B2C commerce.  Whereas Tmall Global accounts for just 18.9% of the cross border market and Taobao Global 15.4%.

There are a host of smaller cross border platforms that are often more targeted to specific segments such as food, wine, cosmetics, mum & baby, health and fashion.  They may only have 10 or 20 million shoppers, but they are generally qualified for your segment, often more affluent, and the competition is less fierce.

Alibaba is China’s most popular ecommerce platform and a great option for many brands, however China is a large market with a number of online and offline sales channels, so take some time to consider them. Agencies like China Skinny can help you work through your options. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

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