By Rieva Lesonsky
When Jack Ma created Alibaba.com in 1999, the internet was still in its infancy. Today, what was once a sourcing marketplace, has become a trading platform, one that enables and empowers global small businesses. Alibaba.com, the largest B2B trading platform in the world, is used by millions of buyers and sellers in 200 countries.
Kuo Zhang, the general manager of Alibaba.com, gave a seminar at the opening day of CES highlighting the transformation of the company, and emphasizing that it’s not just about connecting Chinese suppliers to business owners all over the world. Rather, he says, Alibaba.com’s mission is “to make it easy to do business at any time, from anywhere.”
Essentially, there’s a global business revolution going on, and small business owners should be eager to join it. Estimates vary (and are hard to find) but there are more than 202 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs or SMBs) in the world. And with a global population of 7,530,103,737 at the end of 2017—that means there are a lot of businesses and even more potential customers for you to do business with.
But how do you reach them? Alibaba.com wants to be the resource that brings the global marketplace together.
What’s the key to doing business with global suppliers and manufacturers? Kuo Zhang says it’s about making a connection. And increasingly that connection is mobile. In fact, he says, Alibaba.com is a mobile-first platform. Since many global consumers use their mobile devices more than any other computing device, this makes sense. On Singles’ Day last year, 90% of the transactions took place via mobile and not PCs.
If you want to appeal to these consumers, you not only need to be mobile-friendly (your website, your email marketing, etc.), but Zhang says you need to use video in your marketing. The number of videos used on Singles’ Day in 2017, was 76 times higher than in 2016. In particular he says, “Video is a good way to show how the world works,” and it solves some possible communications difficulties when doing global business.
The second factor that’s key to being a successful global business is trust. Of course, it’s hard to trust people you don’t know. In the “old days,” if you wanted to do business internationally, says Sara Ma, Global Marketing Director at Alibaba.com, you had to find someone [to do business with], buy a plane ticket and fly to that country to check it all out.” Today, all it takes is a smartphone or computer and an internet connection. And once you find, communicate and start doing business with suppliers, hopefully you’ll build trust.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that—but that’s where Alibaba.com comes in—it makes going global easier. Consider the elements of doing business globally and all the challenges that come with it.
1—Finding products and manufacturers. Even as it transforms from a sourcing to a trading platform, Alibaba.com is still the place you come to to find millions of products you can sell.
2—Information. Whether you’re looking for data about an industry or a potential supplier, you can find it. Check Alibaba.com’s Insights for industry information.
3—Language. Are you worried about going global because you fear the language barrier? Zhang says Alibaba.com has introduced a translation tool that automatically translates what you input on the platform into 15 other languages. As Sara Ma says, “It doesn’t matter what language you speak, Alibaba speaks your language,”
4—Payment. Zhang says they’ve formed a global payment network, that is “reliable and transparent.” It works with other financial institutions and companies, such as Bank of America, Citibank, ACH, Alipay and World Pay. And you can exchange currency on the site.
5—Logistics. Getting your products used to take a long time. But Zhang says Alibaba.com is turning it into a 5-day process to get goods from China to the U.S.—and everything will be trackable, so you’ll know where your products are at all times.
6—Infrastructure. Alibaba.com is also providing other infrastructure components, including customs clearance, inspection services and help with VAT.
More innovations are still to come. They’re working on the ability for SMEs to use VR (virtual reality) to “inspect” factories themselves—from the comforts of home.
I talked to Zhang in the Design and Sourcing Marketplace at CES, an idea Alibaba.com and CTA (CES’s parent company) collaborated on. There were 800 exhibitors in the marketplace, more than half of whom are on the Alibaba.com platform. There were innovative products and creative designs everywhere.
Zhang says Alibaba.com is eager to connect the millions of suppliers like them with buyers like you, to help everyone communicate better and build trust with one another. He encourages entrepreneurs to come up with great ideas and wants to help them achieve success. As the tagline on an Alibaba.com video says, “Don’t dream it, be the dream.”