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“We always want to make it easier”: Alibaba Australia MD

Global marketplace Alibaba recently revealed strong second quarter results, including the expansion of its user base to 674 million active users and a revenue increase of 42 per cent.

In this Q&A, Alibaba Australia and New Zealand managing director Maggie Zhou talks about why Australian products are popular on the marketplace, and how the addition of an English-language seller portal has changed things.

Internet Retailing: Australian products are very popular on Tmall –Chemist Warehouse is the number one cross-border store on the site. Why do you think Australian products are so popular in the Chinese market?

Maggie Zhou: I think the prevalence of those products [is due to] Australia having a strong country image – clean, natural, those kinds of things are very attractive to the Chinese consumer.

So for things to eat, to drink, to use on your skin, [Australian products] are really well thought of by the Chinese consumer.

IR: Supplements and skincare are really popular with the Chinese audience. Have you noticed any new trends of what is becoming popular now?

MZ: I think health is also a strong image of Australia. It’s not only one brand of supplements doing well, it’s a group of them. The top five brands from around the world, two of them are supplements, and they’re all from Australia.

They’re also for kids now. Supplements are not only for young people, or adults, but also for kids. Mothers want to supplement more for their kids, [and] their elders.

Beauty supplements have recently become very hot. Women use them not only for their skin, but also take something for inner beauty.

Also, adult milk is now very popular.

IR: Tmall recently launched an English-language version of its seller portal. How has that changed the dynamic of what you do?

MZ: Our mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. We always want to make it easier.

So before, it was hard for the merchants to understand our system. When they would open the store on our platform, our partners would help them.

But even when [we] helped them, they still wanted to understand the performance in their store, but it was all in Chinese, so they could not understand.

[Offering the portal in] English makes that easier. It also makes it easier for brands to submit to open stores themselves.

We are doing a lot of things to lower the barrier for merchants to step into the China market. But if brands don’t have any brand awareness in China, it’s really hard for them to open a store directly.

We say the internet is inclusive. You can help anyone, if they’re rich or poor or able or disabled. Many disabled people are using the platform to do business, and also some mothers – they have a baby, and no time for work, but they can also use the internet.

IR: What are some of the technology trends you’ve seen in China’s retail sector that haven’t quite made their way here to Australia yet?

MZ: China is more mobile now. Most people are just living on mobile. In China it’s a mobile world.

When I go back to China, I don’t have to withdraw any money – I can just use my mobile. I can go anywhere to pay.

Chinese tourists like me, if they come here, they also [like it] when the payment methods are the same as they use in China. It feels very convenient, and feels like home, so they would definitely use mobile payments here.

In China, [if you] go to a restaurant, you can see the QR code on the table. You don’t order from people, you just scan the QR code, order, and someone brings the meal to you.

This is very normal in China, but here we work with a local partner to enable [this at] local restaurants as well. Not only to provide the payment method, but to offer a free translation [of] the menu for Chinese visitors.

When tourists come here, it’s a headache to order. In China, even if you don’t understand the menu, there will be a picture. Here, it’s all words, so it’s hard.

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