- Alibaba launched a digital platform in the U.S. to help connect small and medium-sized businesses to vendors, services and international buyers, the Chinese e-commerce giant said Tuesday in a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
- Sellers in the U.S., including manufacturers and distributors, can create and manage a storefront on Alibaba.com. The company also offers access to payment, communication, customer management and marketing tools as well as Alibaba's U.S.-based "Seller Success" team.
- Buyers can use the platform to find vendors and products. The platform includes "anchor sellers" that offer B2B services and products. Those include Office Depot (added in March) and food supplier Robinson Fresh (announced Tuesday).
In its pitch to U.S. businesses., Alibaba said it could help connect them to the $23.9 trillion global B2B e-commerce market, which the company noted, citing U.S. International Trade Commission statistics, is six times larger than the consumer e-commerce market.
The e-commerce giant boasts 10 million active business buyers across 190 countries. To help connect U.S. businesses to the global market, Alibaba is offering them workshops and webinars with local chambers of commerce and B2B organizations. On Tuesday, Alibaba held the first of its "Build Up" events in Brooklyn with a workshop and one-on-one consultations.
"Alibaba’s announcement to welcome US sellers onto its B2B marketplace shows the Chinese retail giant’s desire to diversify its product offering," Jillian Ryan, principal analyst with eMarketer, said in emailed comments. Ryan noted that about 90% of goods Alibaba's marketplace are made in China and pointed out that Western countries want to be able to source goods in the U.S. (eMarketer estimates Alibaba will make some $1.3 trillion in revenue next year.)
In its release, Alibaba touted its ability to connect U.S. sellers to the world. "While that may be true, Amazon Business' success in selling commodity goods from third-party sellers on its marketplace is another likely driver for Alibaba’s new initiative," Ryan said.
As it tries to broaden its sourcing and audience, Alibaba has recently added English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean language portals to its Tmall Global, which includes some 20,000 brands. That platform allows merchants to create flagship stores as well as optimization advice and fulfillment services. Alibaba has also been courting U.S. brands, including Guess, Starbucks and Walgreens, along with Office Depot.
A broader B2B expansion targeting smaller players in the U.S. presents a major opportunity, as Amazon has found from its experience as a B2B service provider. But eMarketer's Ryan points out that there are still many unknowns.
"The success of this program will depend on whether Alibaba can recruit a strong number of successful sellers," she said. "It will ultimately determine whether Alibaba will be able [to] go toe-to-toe with Amazon in the B2B commodity market."