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.
Just how much time and energy would you spend pondering over which dustbin to buy next? Chances are, not a lot. But for some consumers in China, even seemingly mundane things like trashcans have started to become significant from a social status point of view. More and more Chinese consumers are shifting their consumption of even routine everyday things to more premium categories. They are often influenced by their own experiences or those of their peers, travels abroad, foreign movies or social media. But increasingly now there are a whole host of services that are geared towards exposing Chinese people to newer things—and making them buy.
In China second hand is the latest in thing. Perceptions of greater acceptance for gently used goods is reflected in investors’ enthusiasm for the many start-ups that are now aiming to become the premier national platforms for used goods, ranging from cars to phones, to luxury items and even Han dynasty antiques. Diverse as these markets are, they are all reputation-based businesses where success requires mechanisms to guard against users trying to pass off bad goods as good-as-new. So what is fuelling the growth of second hand markets in China? And how are sellers dealing with the critical issue of creating and maintaining consumer trust?
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?
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?
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