Alibaba chairman Jack Ma was in Detroit this week for Gateway 17, his company’s biggest-ever event stateside, to discuss opportunities for American small businesses to tap into the Chinese market through the world’s biggest e-commerce platform. But his chief creative officer Chris Tung was in the south of France unveiling a new suite of marketing data tools for all the brands and agencies gathered at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, to better use Alibaba’s consumer data.
Often, especially in the Western press, Alibaba is dubbed “the Chinese Amazon.” But with the consumer-to-consumer marketplace Taobao, the business-to-consumer T-Mall, and Alibaba’s business-to-business, plus the social media, maps, Laiwang messaging, a cloud computing service, it’s a bit more far-reaching than that.
“It’s very different from the Amazon model,” says Tung. “We don’t buy products from brands, we don’t buy and sell and take a margin, as a channel. We serve as a marketplace, a bridge between the seller and the buyer, through data. A lot of transactions happen on our platform–$550 billion US worth of gross merchandise value a year. The largest commerce platform on Earth. It’s bigger than Walmart. Much bigger than Amazon.”
If you want to make analogies, Tung says think of Alibaba as a combination of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, in one. Brands set up and operate their own e-commerce flagship stores on the Alibaba platform. And global brands have flocked to it, including Nike, Apple, Coke, Uniqlo, Zara, and L’Oreal.