Alibaba: A company and a story not to be missed

Image copyright Alibaba Image caption The company is tipped as a company ripe for M&A in the wake of its IPO Called Single’s Day, the 24 October shopping bonanza is China’s equivalent of Black…

Alibaba: A company and a story not to be missed

Image copyright Alibaba Image caption The company is tipped as a company ripe for M&A in the wake of its IPO

Called Single’s Day, the 24 October shopping bonanza is China’s equivalent of Black Friday in the US.

Companies including retailer Suning and bike maker Ofo have shut down operations in the wake of a police raid on its festivities.

But Alibaba is keeping everyone waiting with silence.

The company has come under growing scrutiny this year – following the sudden death of a young man who died after an advert he saw on an Alibaba’s search engine for dog food was bought and sold by a woman.

Alibaba, whose CEO Jack Ma recently vowed to fight against “odious values” within the country, has reiterated in recent months that it wants to build trust in Chinese e-commerce.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Jack Ma recently said the business “should only sell 2.8m houses a year to the middle class”.

Why does China’s government seem reluctant to encourage the world’s e-commerce leaders?

China’s government has big plans to transform the country into a “new economy”, from which it hopes to generate higher growth and contain a rapidly rising debt.

In August, China’s GDP grew 6.8% for the quarter, its slowest rate in nearly three years.

From a consumer perspective, there are fears that one of the key trends fuelling e-commerce – the influx of products sold directly to consumers rather than through third parties – could fall out of favour with Chinese consumers.

But Beijing says the e-commerce boom is something that must be encouraged as part of a multi-pronged strategy to create a vibrant and diverse economy that can challenge and eventually overtake the US for global dominance.

What does Alibaba say about China’s e-commerce transformation?

Alibaba has built up its businesses in segments like consumer electronics and sportswear. It now dominates the world’s third-largest e-commerce market – China.

In fact, it said that Chinese consumers account for a quarter of all global mobile internet transactions and half of all online retail sales.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Alibaba says on average, one e-commerce buyer purchases more than 50 products on Alibaba platforms every month

Alibaba Founder Jack Ma reportedly told the BBC in August that the company wanted to reach two billion transactions a day by 2030.

The company’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) exceeded 500bn yuan (£60bn; $75bn) in September, up 42% from last year.

Last year, in a bid to show its commitment to free speech and the protection of users, Alibaba announced it was not banning any controversial ads, including the “like” button – that allowed people to leave a positive comment on negative ones on its platforms.

An independent auditor conducted an analysis of user feedback and found some ads, which had political language and had asked its users for opinions or told people to “like” a certain service or product, did violate Alibaba’s online advertising guidelines.

Image copyright AFP Image caption A woman cuts fruit for sale on a street street in China’s Shandong province

What should investors be expecting from Alibaba in 2018?

Alibaba – the world’s third-largest tech firm by market capitalisation – is expected to file for its initial public offering (IPO) for the first time later this month, Reuters reports.

Walmart and Japan’s SoftBank are rumored to be gearing up to bid for a stake in the company, but the deal is widely expected to be for a single billion.

If it happens, it could value Alibaba at around $100bn – much larger than the $104bn the company is valued at now.

Other possible deals include the company trying to buy supermarket chain Lianhua Supermarket. Its smaller rival Sun Art Retail has already rejected an offer from Alibaba.

Alibaba has also been in talks with the Indian government to set up a massive online shopping hub in India – a move that has met with a cool reception from the Indian government.

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