Alibaba (BABA) is an e-commerce giant founded in 1999 with headquarters in Hangzhou, China. It markets itself as a middleman between the producer and consumer, with affiliates including Taobao Marketplace (consumer to consumer), Tmall.com (business-to-consumer), Alibaba.com (business to consumer), and AliExpress (international consumer to consumer) providing phenomenal growth, especially from 2014-2021.
In the fiscal year ending March 2021, Alibaba’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) was 7.49 trillion Yuan, an impressive growth from 1.678 trillion Yuan in 2014. The company recorded revenues amounting to 717.289 billion yuan, with a net income of 143.284 billion yuan during the same period. This impressive growth is largely due to its strategic e-commerce platforms, which link millions of sellers with hundreds of millions of consumers.
Apart from the e-commerce space, Alibaba is also heavily invested in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, media, and entertainment, with more ventures on the horizon, including financial services (Alipay). It also prides itself as “the most valuable brand in China” and has been reported as “China’s Google.”
Alibaba Business Strategy
Alibaba aims to connect businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers worldwide by investing in and developing platforms that facilitate transactions between them. Its business strategies are derived from Jack Ma’s vision of the internet as an “open and transparent marketplace.”
The company leverages its dominance in e-commerce and logistics to create synergies between businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers. Its strategic approach is not limited to transactions; Alibaba also aims to provide users with a comprehensive e-commerce experience on mobile or internet platforms.
By incorporating an online to offline strategy, Alibaba can facilitate transactions while creating new market opportunities for its users. The company serves as a link between its millions of affiliates and their buyers and sellers. By initiating this type of relationship with affiliates, Alibaba aims to create brand loyalty (especially in China) by providing quality customer service via personal connections.
This strategy is part of Alibaba’s larger “operating system” that connects businesses and facilitates transactions to maximize user experience and create market opportunities for affiliates.
From food delivery to cloud storage, Alibaba actively acquires niche e-commerce companies to strengthen its competitive position in China and abroad. Its strategic approach to mergers and acquisitions is to provide effective service to its affiliates while also acquiring customers.
In its early years, Alibaba also focused on incubating and investing in e-commerce startups that could serve as strategic partners. In the future, it plans to expand more into delivery logistics and air cargo transport (via AliExpress), creating new markets for affiliates while providing quality customer service.
Alibaba SWOT Analysis
- Extensive Clientele: Alibaba has over 500 million active users on its platforms. These include consumers, merchants, brands/importers, and exporters. With such a large following, Alibaba is well-positioned to expand globally in the future. In China, for instance, Alibaba has access to over 90% of the e-commerce market, with its Taobao Marketplace being one of the most popular online shopping platforms.
- Cutting Edge Technology: It has invested heavily in research and development (R&D); in fact, its R&D budget increased by over 33.46% Y/Y in the quarter ending 30th June 2021 to $2.09 billion. Alibaba’s extensive R&D portfolio enables it to expand in niche markets and provide competitive customer service.
- Deep Pockets: Alibaba has over $80.56 billion in cash and equivalents. The company is also considering acquisitions using its newly-established Ant Financial, a more than $200 billion war chest. This allows Alibaba to strengthen its presence in the e-commerce space while acquiring new customers.
- Mobile & Cloud Solutions: Since its IPO, Alibaba has made significant investments in developing mobile and cloud-based solutions to generate and improve user experience. For instance, its acquisition of UCWeb, a mobile browser developer, has allowed the company to expand its mobile e-commerce platforms and strengthen its position in China. Alibaba’s cloud business also generates high revenues from providing storage and computing services to affiliates.
- Counterfeit Goods: While Alibaba has strengthened its intellectual property (IP) infringement measures, counterfeit goods remain a significant concern. It works with the government and brands to combat this problem, but a growing number of counterfeit sellers on Alibaba platforms remain. The company could face regulatory penalties if it fails to address the issue effectively.
- Over-dependence on the Chinese market: While its international business has grown, Alibaba is still quite dependent on its revenues. The company’s performance may be adversely affected by economic downturns in China.
- Antitrust lawsuits: In recent years, the Chinese government sued several prominent e-commerce companies, including Alibaba, for violating antitrust laws. Alibaba also faced scrutiny due to links with local government officials and allegations of unfair trade practices. The company has responded aggressively by increasing its compliance checks and strengthening internal controls.
- Global Expansion: Alibaba has big plans for international expansion in the future. The company’s cross-border payment business, AliPay, has grown at an impressive rate since it was launched a few years ago and could justify further funding.
- Cross-border E-commerce: In recent years, e-commerce has become one of Asia’s most popular retail segments. The growing number of internet and smartphone users, rising disposable income, and the lack of supply chain infrastructure have transformed Alibaba into a global e-commerce player.
- Fierce Competition: China’s e-commerce market is highly competitive. Alibaba faces stiff competition from local players, such as V mall and JD.com, which are responding aggressively to the company’s global expansion plans.
- Trade Wars: In recent years, the US has imposed trade restrictions against China to balance its large trade deficit. These measures have affected Alibaba’s international expansion plans and could hurt the company’s revenue growth in the future.
Alibaba Competitor Analysis
Alibaba faces intense competition in its core e-commerce business from players such as JD.com and VIP.com. However, the company has several strengths that allow it to compete effectively with other major players in the online retail market. Globally it competes with eBay, Amazon, and other E-commerce companies.
JD.COM, Inc. is a major competitor of Alibaba in China’s e-commerce market. The company was founded in Beijing in 1998 as a small electronics retailer and eventually expanded into e-commerce. It competes with Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao by offering a wide range of products in its marketplace.
The company’s strategy involves offering products and services in all significant categories, such as consumer electronics, home appliances, health & beauty products, apparel & accessories, grocery items, computer software & hardware. It also offers a large selection of popular brands. JD focuses on expanding its presence in fast-growing online categories in China, such as video game consoles and gaming supplies.
Despite its significant presence in China, it lacks visibility outside the country. The company has launched JD Worldwide to address this issue and increase its global profile. It focuses on enhancing the customer shopping experience and building a solid brand to improve its global competitiveness. It has also made efforts to attract vendors from around the world.
In 2020, JD recorded revenues amounting to 745.802 billion yuan (USD 114.299 billion) and an operating income of 12.343 billion yuan ($7.561 billion). Its total gross merchandise volume (GMV), which includes consumer spending on its online marketplaces, orders fulfilled by its logistics arm JD Logistics and third-party sales made on the company’s platforms, reached 343.8 billion Yuan in 2021.
Its main competitive advantage over Alibaba is its logistics network. It has a strong technology platform and provides services through its logistics arm JD Logistics. The company offers delivery services using various modes of transport, such as planes, trains, motorcycles, and even drones. This gives it an advantage in the e-commerce market because it can offer faster delivery options to consumers than its major competitor Alibaba.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, and since then, the company has grown into one of the world’s most valuable companies with $1.557 trillion in market capitalization as of February 2021. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is now a leading global online retailer that operates at both ends of the e-commerce value chain. It powers other retailers with its marketplaces and also competes with them directly through its retail platform.
While Alibaba dominates the Chinese market, Amazon has a strong presence in the US and European markets. In the future, Alibaba and Amazon will compete on an even footing because they have similar business models, revenue sources (advertising and sales commissions), and types of products that they sell.
The company’s main competitive advantage is its technology platform. It offers consumers personalized recommendations and the widest selection of products. Amazon has also used its technology to make ordering easy for customers and has invested heavily in predictive analytics to improve its logistics, offering fast delivery options.
Amazon is also focused on strategic partnerships to grow its user base, enhance the customer experience, and increase its revenue from non-retail sources. In China, it has entered into partnerships with Tencent and Baidu to tap the Chinese market. In the future, it will increase its focus on long-term growth in China’s e-commerce market by increasing its investment in local businesses.
eBay Inc. is an American multinational e-commerce company providing consumer-to-consumer & business-to-consumer sales services via the internet (NASDAQ: EBAY). eBay’s main business revolves around its online auction and shopping website. eBay also operates the online payment service PayPal.
The company has a strong market presence in Europe, especially in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. It also maintains a large user base in some countries outside Europe, including Australia and Japan.
Its main competitive advantage over Alibaba is its extensive global outreach. The company is also a popular online auction site, which gives it an edge over Alibaba. It serves more than 159 million active users as of 2021, making it more appealing to international sellers. With the increase in cross-border e-commerce, eBay’s global outreach gives it an advantage against Alibaba and Amazon.
In addition, the acquisition of PayPal allowed the company to generate additional revenue through its payment solutions. PayPal’s strong presence in e-commerce and mobile payments makes it a good fit for eBay, which has struggled to produce growth from its core businesses.
Flipkart is an Indian e-commerce company founded by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal in 2007. Flipkart is India’s largest online marketplace for retail goods and supplies. The company operates an online e-commerce platform and offers promotional services like cash on delivery, installation of electronic appliances, etc.
Flipkart’s main competitive advantage over Alibaba is that it is a homegrown company with a strong presence in India. It enjoys government support and benefits from rising internet penetration, which is set to drive India’s growth in the e-commerce industry. However, it lacks the extensive global outreach that Alibaba offers.
Its main source of revenue is sales commissions charged on transactions through its platform. The company also generates revenue through advertising services, delivery charges, and the sale of gift cards to customers.
Flipkart is also engaged in investment activities to further its expansion plans. It has a strong capital base and high cash flow, which allow it to strengthen its position as the market leader in India’s e-commerce industry. This is especially true after Walmart’s 77% controlling stake in 2018, which increased the company’s value to $20 billion. The company is currently valued at $37.6 billion as of July 2021.
Tencent Holdings Limited is an investment holding company that provides online products and services. The company competes with Alibaba in its online payment service, WeChat Pay, and enjoys partnerships with Alibaba rivals specializing in Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data services.
Tencent’s WeChat platform provides the company with a competitive advantage in its online social media network. It has 1.2 billion active monthly users, making it more appealing to international buyers. Tencent is focused on long-term growth and expanding its user base by increasing investment in localized apps, games, and entertainment services.
Even though their core businesses are pretty different, Alibaba and Tencent utilize technological innovations to reach out to potential customers. For example, Tencent’s online payment service WeChat Pay is similar to Alibaba’s Alipay.
How Alibaba Stands Out Against its Competitors
Alibaba generates revenue mainly from advertisements, commissions, and fees for services on its online shopping platform. The company has a strong capital base and high cash flow, which will allow it to strengthen its market position in the e-commerce industry.
It incorporates behavioral segmentation strategies through its data analytics to create tailored marketing campaigns for targeted customers. The company’s robust cloud infrastructure makes it easy for international merchants to launch their own branded websites and mobile apps without extra investment in technical staff. With the acquisition of Youku Tudou, Alibaba is displaying a commitment to video distribution.
In addition, Alibaba provides cloud computing services to companies in the healthcare, education, and financial services sectors. This allows it to diversify its revenue streams, expand into new markets with high growth potential, and mitigate risk by moving beyond its core businesses.
Alibaba Competitor Analysis (FAQs)
Question: What is Alibaba’s competitive advantage?
Answer: It is a homegrown company with the most dominant presence in China’s e-commerce industry. Alibaba operates diverse and complementary platforms under its umbrella, giving it an advantage over other companies specializing in online shopping and payment or only one platform.
Question: Is Alibaba bigger than Amazon?
Answer: Amazon and Alibaba are two of the world’s biggest online shopping platforms. Alibaba is bigger in China, while Amazon is more prominent in America and other countries. In terms of market cap, Amazon is the bigger company with a $1.674 trillion market cap, while Alibaba has a $465.463 billion market cap.
Question: Is buying on Alibaba safe?
Answer: Compared to some of its competitors, Alibaba offers an extremely safe platform for both buyers and sellers. The company uses advanced anti-fraud technology to protect users from scammers and chargebacks on transactions. When a transaction is complete, Alibaba will send you a notification that includes the seller’s information if anything goes wrong.
Alibaba provides a wide range of digital products and services, from their online marketplace to cloud computing. They also have a strong capital base and high cash flow that will allow them to strengthen their position as the market leader in China’s e-commerce industry. With such robust infrastructure and diverse revenue streams, Alibaba is poised for success against other competitors in the e-commerce industry.