Originally founded in its creator Jack Ma’s apartment in 1999, Alibaba has grown to become an international ecommerce empire. By becoming essentially the middleman for a range of small businesses, the company has been able to make impressive profits and grown significantly.
It is understandable why firms want to emulate Alibaba in order to replicate its success. Of course, a significant reason for the company’s growth has been the niche it has established for itself, and attempting to repeat it too closely - thus becoming a competitor - is likely to end in failure.
Nevertheless, there are some key lessons that can be learned from Alibaba and the way it approaches ecommerce, which could make a big difference to your business if implemented correctly. Here are five of the best tips you can take from the online giant to improve your own ecommerce efforts.
1. Create a visually stimulating environment (but don't jeopardize UX)
Go to alibaba.com and you’ll be greeted by pictures. Scrolling through it will show you how practically every category of product is accompanied by a clear image showcasing an example of something you can buy. The whole thing is designed to get users excited about the possibility of making a purchase.
However, that doesn’t mean you should flood your site with pictures. Alibaba’s site is designed to facilitate the user experience (UX), meaning everything is clearly laid out and easy to navigate. Kuo Zhang, the company’s general manager, has said that Alibaba’s vision is to make every aspect of ecommerce smoother, so the images on-site can’t get in the way of that.
2. Create unique journeys
If you head to Alibaba to buy sports equipment, your experience is going to be different to someone who visits the site in order to purchase sunglasses. The site is segmented so that clicking on one market takes you to a new landing page designed to appeal to specific personas.
This enables Alibaba to craft different user journeys depending on which products they are searching for, and whether they’re looking to make a one-off purchase or buy in bulk. Considering the many different types of people who use the site, this is a great way of targeting a variety of audiences.
3. Educate your buyer and your suppliers
Alibaba’s business is more profitable the more its suppliers sell, so it stands to reason that the company is incentivized to help businesses use the platform and succeed. To this end, it provides free help and support through both forums and web chat services. However, it has also focused on the other end of transactions by educating buyers as well.
By teaching buyers how to make the most of the manufacturers that use its platform, Alibaba can increase the number of sales made - which is good for its bottom line - while also helping users get the best deals. This in turn makes them more likely to return to the site, showing how this kind of education pays off.
4. Offer variety
One thing you won’t lack on a visit to Alibaba is choice. The company offers products of practically all types, as long as someone is willing to sell them via the site. This is one of the secrets to Alibaba’s success; it has been able to position itself as a go-to ecommerce website, no matter what you’re looking for.
This is not always going to be possible, depending on your industry, but it is certainly something to strive for. Show your users the variety of choices they have when using your site. If you only sell one type of product, see if you can split it into different categories. That way, your customers will have more visible options and they’ll be able to get to the specific product they need faster.
5. Get feedback from your customers
Finally, Alibaba has a survey panel that users can go through to provide the site with feedback. This might be one of the most underrated aspects of the ecommerce site. After all, how can you be expected to improve your website - and by the same token, your business - if you don’t know what’s wrong with it?
By hosting this service and making sure it has the time to read the feedback it receives, Alibaba is able to better understand the experience of its users and adjust the site accordingly. That’s not to say you should implement every suggestion, of course, but if there is a clear theme in the feedback then you can see whether or not it’s possible to improve.