Alibaba ‘won’t break its head’ to be like Amazon in the West

As it teams up with CNBC for a new show about empowering startup businesses, Alibaba says it isn’t in a rush to become the next Amazon.


Alibaba has teamed up with CNBC to sponsor a new TV series called ‘Pop Up Start Up’, an Apprentice-style show that follows 12 aspiring manufacturing entrepreneurs.

The six-part show, which started last week and airs on Sky’s CNBC International channel, sees each contestant sell their products in a popup shop, with the participant who makes the most weekly profit earning a £20,000 prize.

It represents somewhat of a shift for the Alibaba brand in the West, a region where it still picks its marketing activity very carefully, despite its status as the world’s biggest ecommerce retailer.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Terry von Bibra, Alibaba Group’s general manager for Europe, says the show will give the brand a new meaning among Brits.

“Alibaba is a very complicated business. We have something like 25 different business units internally so the show is more about getting across our core aim of being an enabler to Western consumers and businesses,” he explains.

Read more: How Chinese brands are breaking through in the West

“By enabler, I mean we want to open the door to the West for Chinese manufacturers and we want to open the doors to the East for UK and European manufacturers and brands. This will be one of our brand’s core purposes.”

As part of its annual Singles Day event, Alibaba recently saw sales hit £14.3bn, a rise of 32% on the previous year. Impressively, over 80% of these orders were made via smartphones. But despite its dominant ecommerce position in China, von Bibra says Alibaba isn’t a rush to become a consumer brand in the same way in markets such as the UK, where its ecommerce operation primarily offers stock items for businesses.

Before joining Alibaba, von Bibra helped bring Amazon to Europe and he says he’s “fully aware” of how crowded the retail scene currently is.

“Right now it is very easy to order consumer products online and get them delivered to your door quickly so why should we break our heads [trying to be like Amazon] and to make something easy when that offer already exists? In terms of budget, we can move mountains if we really believe that investing in something is the right thing to do. But I’m not sure emulating stuff that already is established is the key,” he argues.

“Our mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. Where there are hurdles for consumers or SMEs, Alibaba can ensure that they are able to achieve effective cross-border trade.”