As Jack Ma goes on a US charm offensive, does Alibaba pose a real threat to Amazon and Ebay?

Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba (Source: Getty)

Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, says Yes

In terms of sheer size, accounting for 80 per cent of all Chinese online shopping, with volume growth easily outstripping rival internet retailers thanks to 1bn items on offer to 350m buyers, and with 30m shipments made per day, fast-growing behemoth Alibaba represents a genuine threat to the likes of Ebay and Amazon.

Jack Ma’s stateside charm offensive has provided key insight into the firm’s goals, with some impressive numbers, such as sales of a landmark $1 trillion by 2019, generated by a whopping 2bn customers. The founder has made it clear that the aim is to reduce reliance on China, increasing rest-of-world sales by a factor of 20.

This implies taking market share, which the promise of 72-hour worldwide shipping and attracting US businesses to its already highly-successful platform may well help deliver. Outside China, Alibaba is looking increasingly like the retail elephant in the internet chatroom. The competition better watch out.

Steve Mader, a vice president at Kantar Retail, says No

In the short term, Alibaba is not focused on entering the US or European retail markets to compete on Amazon and Ebay’s home turf. Its attention is connecting Chinese businesses to Chinese consumers, Chinese businesses to the world, and the world to Chinese businesses.

Ma’s goal is to remove a significant amount of friction from Chinese retail trade and have Alibaba positioned as the conduit the traffic flows through, generating a massive number of monetisation opportunities through media and marketing services, or payment programmes such as Alipay.

With Alibaba focusing on China, it offers global retailers the ability to learn and adapt. We’re already seeing this with Amazon’s moves in the UK to become more flexible in its distribution network by partnering with other retailers such as Smiths News, and Ebay becoming increasingly brand focused. In the longer term, however, the tech giants would be foolish to dismiss the threat of Alibaba.

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