Alibaba eyes bigger growth in imports

Firm setting up platforms around globe to secure more trade volume

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has set a target of 1 trillion yuan ($158 billion) for its transaction volume on imported goods over the next three years, as China gears up to host its first import expo in November.

Alibaba executives said on Wednesday that the firm also aims to serve as many as 200 million-middle-income-earners consumers with its cross-border platforms, and help 100 companies around the globe to get listed by 2020.

The firm will unveil six global procurement centers across Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania to recruit local merchants onto Tmall Global, Alibaba’s flagship cross-border e-commerce platform, said Jing Jie, president of Tmall.

“Import will be the pivotal theme for Alibaba this year,” Jing told the platforms’ global partners Hangzhou summit, which was attended by 1,000 retailers worldwide.

“We wish to build a dynamic system to help merchants tap into a growing population that is willing to spend big on quality imported goods.”

The company will leverage data analytics to upgrade overseas partnering retailers and warehouses in free trade zones, according to Liu Peng, general manager of Tmall’s cross-border business division, though no details were provided.

And the import-driven initiative isn’t confined to Tmall Global. Imports will penetrate through its multiple online and offline commercial vehicles, from its iconic Hema Fresh Market to its newly acquired physical supermarket chain RT-Mart, Liu noted.

The endeavors echoed an overall trend in China, which is expected to import products and services with a value of more than $10 trillion during the next five years, said Liu Fuxue, deputy director of the China International Import Expo Bureau.

“We would introduce a scalable investment-attraction system to pair merchants with your potential customers …Platforms like Tmall Global is one demonstration of such an effort,” he said.

The market size of cross-border e-commerce in China is projected to advance 21.4 percent to 620 billion yuan by 2019, according to the Boston Consulting Group, or BCG. The consultancy put Tmall Global’s share of that market at around 25 percent, claiming the top spot for consecutive four years.

A striking 47 percent of the platform’s 65 million users were born in the 1990s, a distinct demography that is comfortable with discretionary spending but is also getting sophisticated in their choice of goods, said Wang Jiaqian, a partner at BCG.

“They have exhibited this strong desire to do online research by themselves, since at least one quarter of them can search product information in English,” she said.

Thirty-five international brands have crossed the 100 million yuan sales threshold on Tmall Global last year. Among them, annual revenue of infant formula producer Aptamil and pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse have also surpassed $100 million.