Live streaming in China is not new. Even back in 2005 there were live streaming businesses based on the PC, but it was not until 2014 that this industry really started to take off in the Chinese market, as China’s almost 700 million internet users became aware that mobile live-streaming is fun and can even be profitable. China’s internet giant companies have long recognized that live streaming is going to be the new portal to bring in traffic, so just like their competition in other battle fields, Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba have spread their tentacles to live streaming and mapped out their respective businesses.
It is a good time to reflect on Singles Day, a shopping carnival initiated by Alibaba that has just yielded a record-breaking sales of $17.8 billion, exceeding that on “Black Friday” in the US. It looks like everyone benefits: vendors sell, buyers get cheap goods and Alibaba profits through advertising fees and transaction commissions. But consider: to sell more, vendors lower product prices and sacrifice per-unit margins, yet they might not be able to make up on volume, as most of the items purchased are durable goods and therefore most of the increased sales on Singles Day are probably shifting sales from earlier or later periods.
With humble beginnings in Hangzhou, Jack Ma went on to create an e-commerce titan that has grabbed the attention of China and the world. Today Jack Ma and Alibaba’s story has become the stuff that legends are made of. Duncan Clark has witnessed firsthand Jack Ma’s dizzying rise in China’s e-commerce firmament. A former investment banker at Morgan Stanley, Clark first got to know Jack Ma in 1999 when he met him in the small Hangzhou apartment where Ma and his friends famously founded Alibaba. In this interview, Clark, also the author of Alibaba, the House that Jack Ma Built, talks about Alibaba’s incredible story and its impact on China.
Currently the most valuable fintech company in China, Alibaba’s Ant Financial owns a myriad of businesses: China’s largest payment tool AliPay and a variety of financial services in areas like banking, funds, insurance, credit scoring systems, etc. With over 400 million active users, it has ambitions to expand further into the Chinese hinterland as well as into global markets—something never done by Chinese financial companies before. How will Ant realize its elephantine goals? What is the logic behind its diverse businesses and which one is the focus? Can Ant become the Taobao of the financial industry? We offer some answers.
Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce firm, recently smashed global records for its ‘Single’s Day’ promotion on 11th November 2015, selling $14.3 billion worth of merchandise in just 24 hours. This is the equivalent to 120,000 orders placed every minute, covering both online spaces such as Taobao and Tmall as well as 180,000 brick and mortar sites across 330 cities in China. The numbers are staggering, but they also show a problem with the sheer scale of selling—how to ensure the quality and authenticity, of goods. Alibaba is now tightening the screws on fake goods being sold on its platforms, but can it stay one step ahead of counterfeiters?
In 2014 rival taxi apps Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache engaged in a fierce price war that left onlookers stunned. According to multiple sources, Didi and Kuaidi altogether splashed over RMB 2 billion (approx. $376 million) on subsidizing customer ride fares. Yet in early 2015, the two bitter rivals announced their decision to merge. It made little sense. They couldn’t possibly have buried the hatchet that soon. Cases like Didi-Kuaidi are becoming common in China’s internet industry, spanning areas like online travel, group buying and classified advertisement websites. Why is China’s online sector witnessing a series of frenzied mergers, acquisitions and partnerships between sworn rivals?
To boost the economy and help small and medium enterprises get capital more easily, the Chinese government is encouraging non-government entities to invest in financial institutions, even allowing private companies to open their own banks. When the government announced its decision to grant five banking licenses for private banks earlier this year, the big three tech companies—Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu—jumped at the opportunity. Given the technological expertise of their backers, these online banks are able to leverage things like big data and cloud computing to assess credit worthiness and tailor the user experience. But can they outmaneuver traditional banks?
This year Alibaba broke all records on Singles Day with sales of $14.3 billion. Singles Day, or China’s Black Friday, was first invented by Alibaba in 2009. The idea was to create an annual sales event with crazy discounts supposedly for those who are single. (The fact that everyone, irrespective of their romantic status, jumped in and shopped is a different matter altogether.) This year a whopping 95 million users joined the cyber shopping fest. In other words, approximately almost one out of eight people in the world clicked the “buy” button on Alibaba’s marketplaces. What did it take to pull this off?
China’s internet world is ruled by three big players: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT. The three companies generated revenues of $20 billion in 2013 and $8.16 billion in the third quarter of 2014. The big three account for a significant, and perhaps disproportionate, share of China’s internet market. Another technology company that has risen to prominence pretty quickly is Xiaomi. BAT and Xiaomi are quickly making inroads into new areas outside their core business—by either investing in or acquiring companies. Take a look at the brand and companies that are backed by these four companies.
If there’s one activity that unites China’s subway commuters, it’s huddling over their smartphone screens to watch the latest local, South Korean or Western TV shows downloaded or streamed from one of China’s many video websites. They’re part of a wider trend where more and more consumers are heading online to find their entertainment, and government statistics show music and video are the fourth and fifth most popular uses for the internet, respectively. But for all the prodigious growth, monetizing the interest has been a different matter. That is largely due to a pervasive culture of free, on-demand content, but that may be set to change.