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De Chinese mededingingstoezichthouder heeft een onderzoek geopend naar webwinkelgigant Alibaba. Het concern, opgericht door miljardair Jack Ma, wordt er onder meer van verdacht verkopers ertoe te dwingen om exclusief via Alibaba online producten te verkopen.

Het nieuws veroorzaakt onrust onder beleggers. Op de beurs in Hongkong staat het aandeel van Alibaba ruim 8 procent in de min en voorbeurs in New York heeft het aandeel ook een flinke duikeling gemaakt.

Al langer onder vuur

Het onderzoek wordt gezien als een belangrijke ontwikkeling. “Dit is China’s eerste mededingingsonderzoek naar een Chinees internetbedrijf vanwege het misbruiken van zijn marktdominantie”, zegt mededinging-expert Scott Yu tegen de Financial Times. Volgens hem zou Alibaba in het zwaarste scenario een boete kunnen krijgen die gelijk staat aan 10 procent van de omzet van het vorige jaar.

Andere deskundigen zeggen tegen de zakenkrant dat alleen al het openen van het onderzoek betekent dat er waarschijnlijk ook bewijs is voor de beschuldigingen. Alibaba heeft aangegeven te zullen meewerken aan het onderzoek.

Ma’s imperium ligt al langer onder vuur. Dat begon begin november, toen op het laatste moment de beursgang van betaalreus Ant Group werd uitgesteld na gesprekken met toezichthouders. Daarvan is Ma ook oprichter.

De Chinese centrale bank zegt in een gezamenlijke verklaring met toezichthouders voor de beurs, het bankwezen en verzekeringen, dat Ant Group gevraagd zal worden bepaalde financiële regels door te voeren. Welke dat zijn is niet duidelijk.

‘Krachtigste optreden van Peking’

The Wall Street Journal noemt de twee operaties “het krachtigste optreden van Peking tegen een technologie-imperium”. Ook Ant Group heeft laten weten mee te werken met de toezichthouders.

Het Volksdagblad, de officiële krant van China, schrijft in een hoofdredactioneel commentaar dat mededinging een urgent onderwerp is geworden. Het onderzoek wordt een “belangrijke maatregel” genoemd om “het mededingingstoezicht op de internetsector te versterken”.

NOS Tech

For years, Chinese e-commerce exporters have been learning the ins and outs of ad placement on Facebook, Instagram and other mainstream social media platforms to reach customers around the world. But they recently spotted a new way to grab people’s attention, one that has never felt more familiar.

Video influencers.

Shopping via videos is currently all the rage in China. There are efforts from short video apps like Douyin — TikTok’s Chinese sister — that match merchants with content creators for promotion. During the coronavirus lockdown, millions of consumers relied on live videos to check out products and posed questions to merchants remotely, a practice that has won endorsement from local governments as a way to drum up domestic consumption. In just Q1 this year, more than 4 million live shopping sessions took place in China.

In other parts of the world, brands and video creators — especially influencers with sizable followings — are also getting pally. A few American venture capitalists have recognized the early potential of the collaboration. Amazon, a few years behind its Chinese counterparts in live streaming, launched Amazon Live last year.

Now Alibaba, one of the pioneers of shoppable videos in China, has big plans to attract and train up international influencers — so it can sell more around the world through AliExpress . The platform is one of Alibaba’s marketplaces for international consumers, which altogether claim 180 million annual active consumers.

“Chinese manufacturers are always looking for ways to sell and influencers are the quickest way to drive traffic these days,” reckoned Miranda Tan, chief executive of Robin8, a data-driven influencer marketing platform.

Indeed, a few Shenzhen-based e-commerce exporters told TechCrunch that they are actively looking to work with international content creators, particularly TikTok influencers, to market their products. For now, they depend on their Chinese staff to make low-budget promo videos that often miss important cultural nuances.

Everyone is a seller

AliExpress plans to recruit as many as 100,000 “promoters,” who will help merchants and brands on AliExpress promote through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other popular internet platforms. Besides popular influencers, the platform is also after talented content creators behind the camera and seasoned marketers with access to customer acquisition channels.

Screenshot: a live broadcasted promotion on AliExpress

“Live shopping is still in its relative infancy in the overseas consumer market,” Martin Wang, who heads overseas seller operation and social commerce cooperation at AliExpress, told TechCrunch. “Our initiative will help propel the overseas ecosystem forward.”

Fabian Ouwehand, the founder of short-video marketing agency Uplab, echoed that view. “It’s interesting because it will push the industry [abroad] to innovate on social commerce. It looks like they are trying a strategy [through which] every user can become a seller — key opinion consumers going to the West.”

To that end, the team created the “Connect” matchmaking system for influencers to find promotional tasks and is providing training and analytics tools to support their creative process. While live selling has been available to Alibaba sellers in China since 2016, AliExpress only added the feature last year and announced the recruitment program in April.

The call for talent came at a time when millions around the world have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak. It’s no surprise that AliExpress is billing the recruitment as one that could “help individuals rebuild after COVID-19.”

“A lot of people don’t have money now and are looking for ways to make money during the coronavirus outbreak,” contended Tan, who has observed many individuals are learning to be product promoters on social media to make extra bucks. “Everyone becomes their own independent company.”

Cultural differences

An obvious target for AliExpress is the emerging crop of bilingual foreign influencers living in China. “Many are foreign students in China with a positive image and a knack for expression. They have a flexible schedule in the evening, so agencies will approach them, train them as live streaming hosts and eventually sign with them,” said Wang.

The influencers fluent in Chinese and their native language may seem like ideal ambassadors in sellers’ target markets, but there is a potential drawback. “They might look to Li Jiaqi and Weiya as role models,” said Wang, referring to China’s top beauty influencers known for their record-smashing sales. “But what works in China may not work in their home countries.”

On the demand side, Wang worried that Chinese merchants are too accustomed to seeing meteoric sales numbers that influencers in China generate. “The overseas [live streaming] market has not reached the stage of maturity, so it’s our priority to manage expectations from both sides [of sellers and content creators.]”

Most of AliExpress’s sellers naturally come from China, the world’s factory, while Russia is its biggest market for revenue. The platform has been working to boost its inventory by opening up to sellers in Turkey, Russia, Spain and Italy last year. For instance, Russia is a big market for AliExpress’s Turkish merchants. The expansion means an even greater challenge for the Chinese company to cope with differences in business dynamics and consumer behavior across regions.


TechCrunch

Alibaba Cloud announced today that it will invest another RMB 200 billion (or about $ 28 billion) into its infrastructure over the next three years, prompted in part by increased demand for services like video conferencing and live streaming as businesses adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The investment will focus on expanding Alibaba Cloud’s technology, including its operating system, servers and chips, in its data centers. The provider currently has 63 availability zones, located in Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

In press statement, Jeff Zhang, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and chief technology officer of Alibaba Group, said, “By increasing our investment on cloud infrastructure and fundamental technologies, we hope to continue providing world-class, trusted computing resources to help businesses speed up the recovery process, and offer cloud-based intelligent solutions to support their digital transformation in the post-pandemic world.”

In its last quarterly earnings report, issued in February, Alibaba reported cloud revenue grew 62% to $ 1.5 billion. Alibaba Cloud is the top cloud provider in the Asia Pacific market, according to Gartner.


TechCrunch

Alibaba Group has acquired NetEase Kaola for $ 2 billion, the two companies said today, and will integrate it into Tmall, creating the largest cross-border e-commerce platform in China. The announcement follows weeks of media reports about a potential deal, which was said to have stalled in the middle of August after the companies reportedly disagreed on transaction details.

Tmall Import and Export general manager Alvin Liu has been named as Kaola’s new CEO, replacing Zhang Lei, but Kaola will continue to operate independently under its own brand.

Tmall Global and Kaola are China’s largest and second-largest cross-border e-commerce platforms, respectively, holding 31.7% and 24.5% of the market, and their union means they will create a business that will far outstrip in size rivals like JD Worldwide, VIP International and Amazon China. (Earlier this year, NetEase was reportedly in talks to merge Kaola with Amazon China).

Alibaba and Yunfeng, the investment firm launched by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, also agreed to invest $ 700 million into NetEase Cloud Music’s latest funding round. This will give Alibaba a minority stake in the streaming music service, with NetEase remaining its controlling shareholder.

In a press release, NetEase CEO William Ding said “We are pleased to have found a strategic fit for Kaola within Alibaba’s extensive ecosystem, where Kaola will continue to provide Chinese consumers with high-quality import products and services. At the same time, the completion of this strategic transaction will allow NetEase to focus on its growth strategy, investing in markets that allow us to best leverage our competitive advantages.”

Daniel Zhang, Alibaba Group’s CEO, said “Alibaba is confidence about the future of China’s import e-commerce market, which we believe remains in its infancy with great growth potential.”


TechCrunch

Salesforce, the 20-year-old leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, is making a foray into Asia by working with one of the country’s largest tech firms, Alibaba.

Alibaba will be the exclusive provider of Salesforce to enterprise customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, and Salesforce will become the exclusive enterprise CRM software suite sold by Alibaba, the companies announced on Thursday.

The Chinese internet has for years been dominated by consumer-facing services such as Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, but enterprise software is starting to garner strong interest from businesses and investors. Workflow automation startup Laiye, for example, recently closed a $ 35 million funding round led by Cathay Innovation, a growth-stage fund that believes “enterprise software is about to grow rapidly” in China.

The partners have something to gain from each other. Alibaba does not have a Salesforce equivalent serving the raft of small-and-medium businesses selling through its e-commerce marketplaces or using its cloud computing services, so the alliance with the American cloud behemoth will fill that gap.

On the other hand, Salesforce will gain sales avenues in China through Alibaba, whose cloud infrastructure and data platform will help the American firm “offer localized solutions and better serve its multinational customers,” said Ken Shen, vice president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“More and more of our multinational customers are asking us to support them wherever they do business around the world. That’s why today Salesforce announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba,” said Salesforce in a statement.

Overall, only about 10% of Salesforce revenues in the three months ended April 30 originated from Asia, compared to 20% from Europe and 70% from the Americas.

Besides gaining client acquisition channels, the tie-up also enables Salesforce to store its China-based data at Alibaba Cloud. China requires all overseas companies to work with a domestic firm in processing and storing data sourced from Chinese users.

“The partnership ensures that customers of Salesforce that have operations in the Greater China area will have exclusive access to a locally-hosted version of Salesforce from Alibaba Cloud, who understands local business, culture and regulations,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Cloud has been an important growth vertical at Alibaba and nabbing a heavyweight ally will only strengthen its foothold as China’s biggest cloud service provider. Salesforce made some headway in Asia last December when it set up a $ 100 million fund to invest in Japanese enterprise startups and the latest partnership with Alibaba will see the San Francisco-based firm actually go after customers in Asia.


TechCrunch

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