Challenges remain in cross-border trade and regulations
After setting a new record at the annual "Singles' Day" online shopping event, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding will generate value that is equivalent to the fifth-largest economy in the future. Industry experts lauded the feat as "unprecedented" but also cautioned about future challenges.
The company surpassed 3 trillion yuan ($440 billion) in annual gross merchandise volume (GMV) for fiscal year 2016, a year-on-year increase of 27 percent, and it is expected to generate more than tens of billions in its daily GMV, mainly driven by this year's "Singles' Day," also known as double 11, shopping festival, Alibaba said in a press release sent to the Global Times during the weekend. Based on the current growth rate, the company will help create a "new economy" that combines billions of individuals and millions of enterprises worldwide, and size up to the equivalent of a GDP just behind the U.S., China, the EU and Japan, the release noted, without providing a timeframe.
A company's output can't be compared to a country's GDP, as the company still faces uncertainties in its corporate operations, but the business model that Alibaba has created will certainly have a significant impact on enterprises not only in China but also overseas, Zhang Yi, CEO of Guangzhou-based market research firm iiMedia Research, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"In the past decade, the e-commerce model has been playing a major role in solving the problem of asymmetric information in the marketplace, but it will focus more and more on how to better integrate online and offline sectors in the future, which will reshape global economic and trade landscape," he said.
Alibaba's business-to-consumer platform Tmall recorded a daily sales volume of 120.7 billion yuan on Friday. The 24-hour event this year covered 235 countries and regions, and 94 brands broke sales records of over 100 million yuan, the press release showed. For example, Japanese retailer Uniqlo surpassed 100 million yuan in online sales in less than three minutes, and multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH also exceeded expectations, for example its affiliated brand Guerlain broke monthly sales record in 12 minutes on the day.
Alibaba will maintain its growth momentum in the next five years as online retail has not reached the "growth ceiling" yet, said Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based independent industry expert. "Meanwhile, Alibaba is helping create hundreds and thousands jobs, which could also be seen as a contribution to the world development," he told the Global Times on Sunday.
However, global trade has been sliding in recent years, and this year the growth will be the slowest since the financial crisis, according to the WTO estimates in September. To boost cross-border transactions, Alibaba included "buy globally, sell globally" in its strategy for this year's Double 11 shopping razzmatazz, which is in line with the group's founder Jack Ma Yun's proposal of building an electronic world trade platform (eWTP).
The eWTP would help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) overcome complex regulations, processes and barriers that hinder their participation in global commerce.
While pushing forward this idea, Alibaba has been facing mounting pressure from foreign regulators. For example, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has recently probed the counterfeit goods on its platform, which could be seen as a result of the trade frictions between the countries, Liu said, noting however that there is no need to exaggerate the aftermath of this conflict, as the current success of Alibaba will eventually help the real economy, or the SMEs, to upgrade their business models and generate more profits.
Alibaba is not the only e-commerce giant that aims at connecting the world and trying to build a global business cycle, "U.S. e-commerce platform Amazon has been doing the same thing for years, but the outcome is not as good as expected," Zhang Yi said.
Zhang noted that like Amazon, the Chinese company's overseas business still accounts for a small part of its overall business due to barriers in international trade.
"Finding complementary areas for doing business is crucial for Alibaba, as shown by JD.com, another Chinese online supplier, which has purchased some of overseas retail marketplaces to better serve the diversified demand in China," he said.
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