In step with the growth of China’s economy, its largest e-commerce company, Alibaba, may already be the largest in the world. As the chief-executive job is being handed over to a trusted insider this May, the company is expected to announce details of its initial public offering (IPO) shortly afterward.
The Alibaba conglomerate handled over $170 billion in sales in 2012—more than eBay and Amazon combined. The company started as a website connecting Chinese manufacturers with businesses overseas, but it grew to include Taobao, a website for consumer-to-consumer sales similar to eBay. It then added Tmall, a business-to-consumer portal not unlike Amazon. According to The Economist, Alibaba’s “greatest untapped resource”, however, is its customer data as the site accounts for over 60 percent of the parcels delivered in China and “knows more than anyone about the spending habits of the Chinese middle class”.
The company is also having an interesting effect on China’s economic landscape in the form of Alifinance, a huge micro-lender to small firms that will soon be extending its offerings to regular consumers. This is helping “liberalize Chinese finance” since the large state-owned banks have long neglected the private sector.