Alibaba

Alibaba is helping small and medium-sized businesses Stateside go digital amid the pandemic. 

The Chinese B2B platform, which expanded to include U.S. sellers in July 2019, is now offering three new tools to help businesses of any size move online. The features include digital payment terms and freight options, as well as the chance to participate in virtual trade shows. 

“I’ve seen 20 years of transformation happen in the last two months,” John Caplan, president of Alibaba.com’s North America and Europe divisions, said of the coronavirus pandemic that has forced retailers around the world to close up shop and businesses and consumers alike to seek out online alternatives. “COVID-19 has had a massive negative impact on the global economy. Digital has gone from a got-to-have [business tool], to a must-have.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba.com, part of China’s Alibaba Group, has grown by about 85 percent since the global crisis began, Caplan said. (Revenues for the quarter ending March 31 jumped 22 percent year-over-year, or more than $16 billion, thanks to consumers hunkering down at home in Asia and abroad.) The U.S. market is Alibaba’s fastest-growing market, followed by Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Germany. 

The tools then will help U.S. small and medium-sized businesses — many of which are struggling to survive with stores closed — compete with larger players that have more resources. Alibaba.com Freight enables firms to find and compare prices for international ocean and air shipping, while Alibaba’s new payment terms allows businesses to digitally determine payment terms, create contracts, send invoices, make payments online and even delay payments — for some buyers by as much as 60 days after the initial order. 

Caplan likened Alibaba’s upcoming digital trade shows — which will connect U.S. manufacturers and wholesalers with buyers virtually in lieu of the traditional, and often costly, trade show model — to a round of speed dating. But instead he said Alibaba’s version was the best way to avoid the “trade show wondering-the-halls phenomenon.” 

“It’s the best use of the seller and buyer’s time,” Caplan claimed. “We’re matching people up appropriately.” 

Alibaba has roughly 20 digital trade shows planned over the next four month, the first of which will occur July 7 to 10. Sellers can apply for the invite-only events online. 

“The playing field should be fair,” Caplan said in regards to businesses of any size competing online. “Ultimately, our goal is to give [small and medium-sized businesses] even greater access to the $23.9 trillion global B2B e-commerce opportunity — which is six times the size of the B2C e-commerce market. This is a game-changer for small businesses in the U.S.”

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