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Forget Amazon And Walmart For A Minute: Here Comes Alibaba

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While Walmart and Amazon dominate the national conversation in the US, and to an extent in Europe as well, Chinese giant Alibaba is one to watch.

Most of us have probably sort of put Alibaba out of our heads after its odd 11Main.com debut in the US in 2014. It was hard to understand what the website stood for, and there was NO evidence of its Chinese roots. In fact, its opening promotion was all about July 4. Odd.

So time has marched on, and last week I got the most surprising press release from my editor at Forbes. It put Alibaba back at top of mind, where it will likely stay for some time.

It’s a mirror image of Amazon, only further ahead on the brick-and-mortar front.

Apparently, like Amazon, Alibaba has a tech division and it also has a financial services division. The financial services division It is called “Ant Financial Services.” The combination of the two is powering traditional brick and mortar retail stores in China and Ant is moving into stores in the US with a Chinese clientele. Last week, the company announced that “99 Ranch Market” an Asian Supermarket chain in the US will accept Alipay at all its stores in North America. The justification on 99 Ranch Market’s part is, “Our partnership with Alipay will enable us to offer our Chinese customers traveling in the U.S. with a familiar checkout experience that minimizes stress at the register, whether its language barriers or payment concerns, while also enabling us to better connect with them and draw them into the stores.”

Sounds reasonable, but then I started wondering what else Alibaba and its subsidiaries are up to. The short answer is “A lot.” The expansion of Alipay has been going on since 2017 (who knew?) and Alibaba is doing a lot of things in brick and mortar in China, France and other countries around the world. I strongly recommend getting a copy of their weekly newsletter, which you can find here at www.alizila.com.

As we sit staring into the face of a trade war, we can see that China’s Alibaba and its divisions, while only ¼ the size of Amazon.com, has a lot of irons in the fire. A new concept store showing the future of Fashion Retail, a partnership with France’s Bollore Group to partner with them (wait for it….) “in the areas of cloud services, digital transformation, clean energy and mobility and logistics.”

Alibaba owns its own chain of grocery stores in China, and the technology group has helped other grocers and small retailers move into the 21st Century.

In fact, even a form of 11main.com lives on, as www.opensky.com. It’s a marketplace in the US. with a full family of brands and subsidiary web sites. There’s another “who knew” moment for me, right there.

Here’s the bottom line. Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba has vision, and he is unencumbered by the political strife that’s going on here in the US of A. European and Asian companies will ask themselves “Do I want to risk trusting my business to an American company like Amazon, or do I want to engage with a company in more stable environment?”

I understand not everyone in the US feels the way I do about our current government. But we all have to agree we are in a somewhat tenuous situation on the world stage. Who are our allies? Who are our enemies? And what is going to happen with this trade war?

Alibaba has been quietly expanding both horizontally (into new businesses like tech and finance) and vertically (into brick and mortar retailing, now and for the future).

Seriously, sign up for the newsletter, and take a look at what’s happening on the other side of the world, and coming soon to a retailer near you. I suspect you’ll be as surprised as I was. Take your eyes off the US-based giants for a few minutes. Alibaba is one to watch.

 

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Articles & Opinions July 10, 2018
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