What does all of this mean for you? If you shop at all online (and these days, who doesn’t), potentially a lot. Here, five things to know about Alibaba, because by the close of 2014, the company will be inescapable.
1. The company is a combination of eBay, Amazon, Google, Paypal, and so much more.
Try and think of one American company to compare Alibaba to, and you’ll draw a blank. The company is a mix of Amazon, eBay, PayPal, and to some degree, Google. As a customer you can use Alibaba to shop online, sell goods, and make online payments. Under the Alibaba umbrella there are a variety of retail sites including its two most prominent: Taobao, which offers a huge number of non-brand name products sold by smaller merchants; and Tmall, which offers brand-name products.
Together, the two sites account for half of all of the package deliveries in China, and their combined transaction volume in 2012, $163 billion, was more than Amazon and eBay’s revenue combined. Alibaba even has it sights set on conquering the cloud computing market.
2. It’s the world’s largest Internet marketplace. Yes, you’ve read that correctly.
With a base of 560 million users, who spend an average of 20 hours a week online, Alibaba has created one huge online marketplace, and one of the world’s 20 most-clicked sites. The site has 36.7 million registered users as of 2012, meanwhile its mobile payments service, Alipay, is responsible for 70 percent of all of China’s mobile payments in 2013.
3. Fast fashion retailers should be very afraid.
Fast fashion chains like Forever 21 and H&M have transformed our expectations for what clothing can and should cost, but Alibaba is taking that a step further. On AliExpress, which sells goods to over 220 countries, there are tons of fashion options for less than $20 being sold by Chinese businesses to a global audience, essentially cutting out middle men.
As China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba has easy access to its sellers’ supply chain of cheap Chinese goods. The ability to offer cheaper Chinese-made goods than pretty much anyone to a global audience means a huge edge.
4. The company is also making inroads with high fashion brands.
Alibaba is also offering more than fast fashion, it is also making huge inroads with designer brands, eager to sell goods to the luxury hungry Chinese market. Burberry has just opened a virtual storefront on Alibaba’s Tmall shopping site, for instance. The reason brands are to sell on Alibaba is to capitalize on the massive growth of online shopping among the Chinese—Chinese shoppers bought $295 billion worth of merchandise online in 2013. The long term impact, though, is that it’s not far fetched to imagine Alibaba turning into the ultimate one-stop online shopping destination.
5. It’s buying up a storm.
Alibaba made $3.5 billion worth of acquisitions over the past year. So far those acquisitions have been predominantly limited to Asia, but recently it bought a minority stake in California-based messaging and free-calling app Tango for $215 million. Who knows what could be next? Smaller, U.S-based e-commerce sites? Social shopping apps? The sky is really the limit, especially considering the prospect of tons of incoming IPO cash, all of which could have a huge impact on the way that we all online shop.