By Rieva Lesonsky
My experience last week at CES was a bit of an eye-opener. While many attendees were oohing and aahing over gigantic television sets and robots (more on that later this week), I spent most of my time in the Design and Sourcing Marketplace, an idea Alibaba.com and CTA (the parent company of CES) collaborated on. And as a long-time small business advocate, the Marketplace was an exciting place to be.
There were about 800 suppliers in the marketplace, showcasing their products, hoping to attract the eyes of buyers looking for innovative products to sell. Providing that connection—bringing together buyers and sellers—is one of the ways Alibaba.com helps small business.
What struck me in the Marketplace—and particularly in the Alibaba.com booth which featured some of its key sellers—was the emphasis on enabling transactions between small businesses across the globe. Many of the sellers (from China) were small business owners themselves, sharing traits and characteristics with the buyers from small businesses.
For instance, in classic entrepreneurial fashion, Ken Wu launched his business in 2009 when his daughter needed to buy some lamps for her student room, and they couldn’t find any they liked. Wu made some, first for her, then for her friends and his small business, BMQ, was born.
Alibaba.com has created several innovative tools to empower global trade and make it easier for small businesses to work across borders. Some of these include:
- Translation tool. You can fill out your forms in English (or another language) and it will automatically be translated into 15 other languages.
- Mobile app. The mobile app has sped up the buyer/seller engagement process. Douglas Wang, Alibaba.com’s Director of Global User Design said you can get answers to RFQs (Request for Quotes) in 24 hours, and start global trade with anyone in the world via Alibaba.com within one week.
- Trade manager. Includes an instant messaging tool that enables quick communications between buyers and sellers.
- Trade Assurance. Every one of the suppliers I talked to mentioned how much the Trade Assurance program helps buyers trust doing business with them. Angel Zhong, the CEO of CTunes, which makes and sells mobile phone accessories, said, “Buyers worry about quality, if you use Trade Assurance, it makes it easier to do business.”
- Insights. You can find a lot of information here, particularly about trends and industry stats.
- Other services include currency exchange, payment platform, and help with logistics and inspections.
Speaking at one of the seminars held at the Design and Sourcing Marketplace, one small business owner who uses the Alibaba.com platform likened finding suppliers to dating. You have to determine if you “mesh” and if you can work together.
Michael Cai, of Bassworld Technology, which makes several types of noise-cancelling headphones, said trust is a two-way street, adding, “Suppliers also have to trust the buyers.” Alibaba.com helps enable that trust.
Underscoring the empowerment message, Kuo Zhang, the general manager of Alibaba.com says the company’s mission is “to make it easy to do business at any time, from anywhere.” Sunny Chhabra, Alibaba.com’s Global Marketing Manager adds that “the core of Alibaba.com is small business.”
Buyers and suppliers agree. Nancy Chan, sales manager at BMQ, says, “Access is the most important factor when doing business globally. And Alibaba.com gives you entrance to the global market.”
Brothers Scott and Robert Mlakar, owner of Firehouse Technology, a small business in Ohio, told me they’ve been coming to CES for 10 years looking for products to sell. They said the Design and Sourcing Marketplace made their “idea trip” so much easier. In the past they said, they had to “hunt and search” for products, but with so many products under one roof, they saved both time and energy.