E-commerce boom turns crisis into opportunity


Maggie Zhou, Australia & New Zealand Managing Director of Alibaba, discusses e-commerce opportunities for Australian businesses.

COVID-19 has created many challenges for businesses, but crisis can present opportunity. That’s the motto Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is taking into its relationships with Australian businesses trying to crack the Chinese market. 

Maggie Zhou, Australia & New Zealand Managing Director of Alibaba, says the company is helping Australian retailers take advantage of this opportunity. She tells MHD that there is a growing demand for Australian products in China, because of our reputation for fresh produce and strong environmental standards.  

“Australia has an image of being very ‘green’,” says Maggie. “So when Chinese consumers think about Australian-made products – particularly in areas like food and skincare – they associate them with freshness and environmental purity.”

Maggie expects the online shopping trend will continue to grow post pandemic. In an uncertain world, she says, digitilisation looks to be one of the only certain opportunities for businesses going forward.

“We noticed that consumer behaviour shifted throughout and after the coronavirus outbreak – and is continuing to shift,” she says. “More consumers are staying indoors, meaning people are getting more and more used to the convenience and comfort of taking care of their daily living needs digitally.”

China recovered from COVID faster than most of the world, meaning consumers have had time to adjust their daily shopping habits, according to Maggie. This is great news for certain Australian brands with the most potential to increase their reach in China. Maggie says that health products have enjoyed a boom in sales post pandemic, with physical wellbeing at the forefront of consumer thought.

“Categories including cleaning, natural products and skincare, as well as health supplements in the Chinese market can be very expensive but very popular,” she says.

Maggie speaks of the cultural importance in China of people taking care of not only their own health, but the wellbeing of family and friends as well.

“Many people in China care more about their health than before. Not only the traditional products but some of the new ones are increasingly sought after by Chinese consumers,” she says.

Maggie expects to see further growth with Tmall, a platform for international businesses to sell brand name goods to Chinese consumers. The website is operated by the Alibaba Group and can facilitate a diversification of goods as different generations look for products outside the box.

“There are different functions for different generations, different for kids, women, men, the elderly. These are diversified and there is no longer just one type of product on the Chinese market,” Maggie says.

Alibaba can further support Australian companies with a strategy to combat the expense of moving product in the sky. They have warehouses in China where brands can pre store and pack products into warehouses via ocean freight, bypassing the cost of air freight. 

“Companies can just deliver those products from the boarding warehouse to Chinese consumers’ doors very easily and efficiently,” Maggie says. “We haven’t been heavily impacted by air freight during COVID and nowadays it’s even better than when the pandemic started.” 

Like any company, Alibaba needs to know if it can trust who it is working with. This presented a challenge during the period in which Zoom calls replaced face-to-face interactions, says Maggie.

“Last year we did a lot of matching businesses online between Australian brands and Chinese merchants. Sometimes this is a challenge but we can find a way to tackle the challenge and make it an opportunity,” she says.

Having worked with Alibaba in the early start-up days, Maggie is well placed to offer a clear vision for the future. She says that while it is imperative to respect the culture of the local Chinese market, it is at the same time a privilege to work with Australian businesses to sell their products internationally. 

“This is just the beginning. We are explorers in the local market as well as the international market. I believe globalisation is more like a ‘glocalisation’,” she says.

Maggie’s mindset is focused on what she calls the ‘Four News.’ New retail, new technology, new finance and new energy. But while these new technologies, processes and methods are the means, she insists that one must never lose sight of the end.

“In the next era technology will be very important,” she says. “But tech is always just a tool to understand the customer’s needs.”

For more information on Alibaba, click here.

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