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Alibaba, Amazon fight for online shoppers

Updated: 2014-12-01 10:00
By Du Xiaoying in Beiijing (China Daily USA)

Just two weeks after Nov 11 helped Alibaba Group Ltd hit a one-day sales record of 57.1 billion yuan ($9.3 billion), rival Amazon.cn unveiled its Chinese version of Black Friday on Nov 28.

The two-day campaign featured more than 35,000 products at discounts of up to 70 percent and allowed local shoppers to buy foreign products with discounts similar to those in the United States.

It seems that the battle between the two notable players is on. Who is going to win? What are the advantages of each player? And what will local shoppers gain from the battle?

Both of them have their strengths. Logistics, foreign products and after-sale services are Amazon's noteworthy advantage.

Thanks to the mature logistics system in the US and the long-term partnership with large airlines, Amazon can complete international orders in nine to 15 days on average, even two to four working days in some cases.

After 19 years in business, Amazon has a deeper relationship with many US and international retailers than Alibaba does.

Many of the brands promoted by Amazon in China during its Black Friday campaign are from the US.

Moreover, Amazon's after-sale services surpass Chinese standards and have impressed all the shoppers I have interviewed, even flattered some. They said the services exceeded their expectations, and they feel safe shopping on Amazon.

Alibaba, on the other hand, also has strengths such as fame in China, a huge number of customers, language, and "Double 11", a sensational shopping day it created, and many other e-commerce dealers in China to promote sales with discounts.

There is no doubt that Alibaba is the biggest player in China's e-commerce market. People are used to shopping on its platforms Taobao.com and Tmall.com. The habit is hard to break unless Amazon can offer something better.

English is a barrier for many Chinese shoppers looking for foreign products. Some of my interviewees complained that the detailed introduction of products in Amazon are in English, so they have to search for a Chinese introduction somewhere else, which is certainly irksome.

Nov 11 also dimmed shoppers' enthusiasm somewhat on Amazon's Black Friday, as many people already got what they needed on Nov 11. Amazon's chance to win is small, unless it offers better prices or products not found on Alibaba's platforms.

Nevertheless, competition among the two will certainly benefit local shoppers, as they can buy quality foreign products at home, with more options available, and get better service and prices.

This year's competition can be seen as a test run for Amazon, the merchants it teamed up with, and Chinese shoppers, who were able to buy across borders online for the first time.

For example, Amazon and the merchants offered only some of their products in this year's sales promotion. I guess they will put more out there next year.

Many Chinese shoppers weren't aware of Amazon's promotion or didn't spend because of some concerns. I think they will be more active next year when they can see a clearer picture.

Our world is getting flatter, and I'm looking forward to seeing more competition in China's consumer markets.


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