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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Alibaba: They came from the east

The West in general and the UK in particular seem to believe that our Imperial pasts provide an eternal right to global leadership. Call it our collective colonialist conscience. So when Western retailers decided to retrace the journeys of our ancestors, we naturally expected them to always succeed. Perhaps.

Compare Tesco's £85m Indian JV announcement with Alibaba's $200bn IPO. The numbers are incomparable. Alibaba's scale is staggering, the cash raised massive. Makes you wonder why Tesco are even bothering. Remembering the $57bn P&G paid for Gillette, expect the next deals in retail to be in the billions and that puts virtually every listed retailer (with the possible exception of Walmart) in play. 

The tide is turning and expect a surge of Asian finance making in roads into Western retail markets. There is only one sure fire outcome. The retailers that dominate shopping in 10 years from now, will be different names than we recognise today. Call it regime change because it is as revolutionary as anything we have seen on our TV screens.The internet has brought down governments, what's a few retailers here and there? Open Sesame...
  • 24,000 people work for Alibaba. That's more than Yahoo and Facebook have combined.
  • Yahoo's entire market value is tied to Alibaba. Yahoo currently owns 24% of Alibaba (though it's predicted to sell back 10% of that stock when the company IPO's.) Yahoo's stake in Alibaba is worth $37 billion. Yahoo's market cap is $39.5 billion. 
  • In 2012, two of Alibaba’s websites handled $170 billion in sales. That's more than competitors eBay and combined.
  • Yahoo only gets a small slice of the total sales, but even a small slice is a lot of money. In January, Yahoo reported (.PDF) that Alibaba's revenue was ~$1.8 billion for the September quarter, a 51% year-over-year increase. Net income was $792 million, up from a loss of $246 million the year before.
  • During the Chinese equivalent of Black Friday, Alibaba processed more than $5.75 billion in sales. That's 3X more sales in just one day than America saw on Black Friday — on just one company's websites.
  • Alibaba's sites account for over 60% of the packages delivered in China.
  • Alibaba has millions of registers users. In 2012, Alibaba clocked in at 36.7 million registered users from more than 240 countries. It also has more than 2.8 million supplier online storefronts and more than 5,900 product categories.
  • Alibaba's IPO could be even bigger than Facebook's. Facebook’s IPO valued the company at $104 billion, but Bloomberg says Alibaba is valued between $153 billion and $200 billion.
  • Alibaba is on track to become the world’s first e-commerce firm to handle $1 trillion a year in transactions.
  • Alibaba's Taobao is one of the 20 most-visited websites globally. Taobao lets users sell goods to one another (like on eBay) and it features nearly a billion products.
  • Alibaba has a mind-bogglingly huge frontier for growth. Analysts predict that China’s e-commerce market will be bigger than the existing markets in America, Britain, Japan, Germany and France combined by 2020.
  • There are two secrets to Alibaba's $100 billion success in its home country. It blocks China's search engine from searching inside two of its most popular web stores, Taobao and Tmall. (To understand that contrast from the norm, Google search "buy ___," and you'll see that Google will pull up product listings from sites like Amazon and Ebay. You can't do that with a Chinese search engine.)
  • By not allowing search engines to display Taobao or Tmall items in search, Alibaba makes consumers start all their searches within each virtual store. It can then rake in cash by selling search ads on Taobao and Tmall – acting more like Google in how it makes money than eBay or Amazon.
  • The company uses a unique payments system. It has Alipay, a novel online-payments system that relies on escrow. It releases money to sellers only once their buyers are happy with the goods received.
  • There’s a annual employee talent show, that's so big that it's held at a local stadium. Employees will rehearse for weeks, and Alibaba's office is filled with photos from past events.
  • The company's name really is a reference to an old folk tale. Founder Jack Ma said in an interview that he chose the name because people all over the world have heard the story of Alibaba and the forty thieves. "We also registered the name Alimama, in case someone wants to marry us!"
  • Alibaba has also dipped its toes in the loan business. For three years, Alibaba been making small loans (average size $8,000) to merchants using its sites. This practice has given it boatloads of data that it can use to help decide the company's business strategy. Its processed $600m in loans in 2012 and predicted that it would reach $2 billion by the end of 2013, with the non-performing-loan ratio below 2%.
  • Jack Ma, Alibaba's founder, has a net worth of $10 billion. That makes him the eighth richest person in China.

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