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Alibaba

Connecting the world's businesses

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Alibaba is a trading platform for the new world order, enabling a small business in remote China to deal directly with a large corporate, for any entrepreneur to access a global marketplace.

Jack Ma grew up in Hangzhou, China. Having twice failed the entrance exam, he trained to be a teacher, but soon found himself, at the age of 25, lecturing in international trade. Friends in the USA helped him develop his first website, China Yellow Pages, which friends back home were amazed by. But Jack had bigger ambitions, for himself, and Chinese business.

In 1999, Ma was back in the USA, sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop thinking about the name Alibaba. He asked a waitress what she thought of the name. “Open sesame” she replied. He found 30 more people in the street and asked them the same. “Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped his village” concluded Ma (with no mention of thieves). The name fitted his website that he believed would open up a world of possibilities to thousands of small and medium Chinese businesses. It is now a global business exchange, with 80 million companies using the online platform to buy and sell anything across the world.

Alibaba.com is the only publicly traded part of the Alibaba Group, the other major businesses being Taobao, an online consumer shopping mall with 370 million users. The Group has also extended in North America, acquiring Vendio an online retailer similar to Taobao, and Auctiva, a database and digital marketing business.

Alibaba.com has three versions. The company’s English language international marketplace (www.alibaba.com) serves to bring together importers and exporters from more than 240 countries and regions. The China marketplace (www.1688.com) is developed for domestic business-to-business trade in China. In addition, Alibaba.com offers a transaction-based wholesale platform, AliExpress (www.aliexpress.com), which allows smaller buyers to buy small quantities of goods at wholesale prices.

Taobao Marketplace, or simply Taobao, is the biggest consumer to consumer shopping platform in China, launched in 2003. Tmall.com was introduced in April 2008 and is now a major online shopping destination for quality, brand name goods in China. eTao is an independent engine, particularly focused on comparison shopping, whilst Alipay is an online payment platform, similar to but significantly bigger than Paypal.

Alipay has been particularly important, in a market where consumer trust in online payments is low, consumer protection laws are weak, and there is limited credit card penetration. Alipay is an escrow payment, meaning that consumers only release their payment if they are happy with goods received.

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