This Online Retailer Does Way More Business Than Amazon, and You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

A Chinese company, Alibaba, has been getting a lot of press lately. Here’s what the fuss is all about.

This Online Retailer Does Way More Business Than Amazon, and You’ve Probably Never Heard of It Photo (cc) by charles chan *

Watch out, Jeff Bezos. Jack Ma is knocking on the door.

Bezos, the founder of Amazon, may soon find himself going head-to-head with Ma’s China-based e-commerce giant, Alibaba. Already, Alibaba is the world’s largest sales site, with nearly $250 billion in transactions last year. That’s more than Amazon and eBay combined.

While Alibaba may be a force to be reckoned with globally, 80 percent of online sales in China are made through an Alibaba site, the company has yet to make inroads in the West. But that may change now that Ma has taken his company public in the U.S., in the stock market’s largest initial public offering on record, no less.

If you’ve never heard of Alibaba, you’re in good company. A September poll found that 88 percent of Americans were unaware of the business. Whether you’re part of that 88 percent or not, keep reading to learn more about the firm and if you’ll soon be trading in your Amazon bookmark for an Alibaba one.

Alibaba: One company hoping to rule them all

Part of what makes Alibaba unique is its diversity. It’s not just a retail store. It’s not just a wholesale junction. It’s not just a finance provider.

It’s all that plus more rolled up in a series of websites that feature lots of bright colors, blinking words and an adorable cat graphic that serves as a loading icon. Here are some of the most notable parts of the Alibaba empire:

  • Alibaba. Go to Alibaba.com, and you’ll come to an English language site offering wholesale products of every kind. You can search for specific products or submit an inquiry and let multiple vendors respond. If you want to buy 10 tons of canned mackerel or 500 laptop bags, this is the site for you.
  • AliExpress. Catering to global buyers, this English language site offers both bulk purchases and individual items for sale. It has something of an eBay feel to it with similar types of listings and a seller rating system.
  • Taobao. Taobao works along the same lines as AliExpress except it’s in Chinese. You can buy everything under the sun here, although counterfeit products are said to be a problem. Oh, and if you need to wake up in the morning, Taobao might be able to help. Holy bright colors, Batman!
  • TMall. Another Chinese site, TMall offers storefront space for major brands such as Adidas and P&G to sell their goods.
  • Juhuasuan. A subset of TMall, Juhuasuan is a group buying site. Think: Chinese Groupon or LivingSocial.
  • Alipay. This is Alibaba’s answer to PayPal, with the added benefit of acting as an escrow service when needed. An English language version of the site is available for global customers.
  • Laiwang. As Alibaba’s social media/chat app, Laiwang apparently envisions a world in which we are all lemons.

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