Monday, October 09, 2006

Alibaba.com: Uniting Markets Across Seas

International business, a thriving sub-category within the macro-sphere of commerce and trade, is a complex system which exists in global communication and connection. Moreover, bridging the gap between buyers and sellers is an arduous task, a task in which the player must be acutely aware of the competitiveness of his constituent market. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, as of April 2006, the percentage of adult Americans who use the internet daily has grown by 400%. Presently, 66% of Americans use the internet every day to complete such varying tasks as, checking the weather and completing basic business transactions.

A viable solution to international trade and commerce barriers is now available thanks to Alibaba.com, an international trade site that capitalizes on China’s industrial market and offers myriad resources to internet savvy business people hoping to capture a piece of the action. Alibaba.com received the 2005 “Standard of Excellence” from the prestigious Web Marketing Association’s “WebAwards.” A well deserving recipient, Alibaba.com has become the most reliable website, allowing international business to be conducted without expensive travel or extensive research and delivers information to prospective buyers about products manufactured in China via an organized website platfrrm. The WebAwards is an annual event showcasing the elite websites of specific industry categories and identifies a small handful of benchmark setting websites. There is substantial room for interpretation within the WebAwards categories due to loosely defined guidelines set forth in the list of criteria.

Foreign trade data,(FTD), recorded that China’s exports through July 2007 had already reached 30,833.80 units for seven months to date, compared to 28,367.90 units in 2003. The colossal power of China’s exponentially increasing export market is difficult to ignore. It is because of this very reason that Alibaba.com, a pioneer in the e- commerce segment of foreign trade, enables an individual to effectively purchase manufactured goods from China without any prior contacts or an intermediary

When a user would like to inquire about a product or service from China, one would simply select a category, for example “lights and lighting,” then a sub-category, “Dimmers” and locate the specific items they are looking for. If one were interested in dimmer switches he could scroll down the page until the exact product was located, then select the product and find any necessary information. The innovation behind the product display and description makes research and purchasing effortless. Few international business website has been able to successfully link international buyers and manufacturers while eliminating the middleman as Alibaba.com has. The user can order the product or contact the manufacturer immediately—an innovation and function unmatched in the industry. Alibaba.com’s main competitor,SAP, requires that they be initially contacted, and once matched with a manufacturer, a buyer can then establish a relationship. This process requires too many links in the supply chain, and increases the costs and hassles of a potential transaction.

Beyond uniting buyers to Chinese manufacturers, Alibaba.com applies interactivity and establishes considerable credibility through forums which enlighten users to potentially lucrative experiences with Chinese manufacturers as well as unpropitious undertakings. According to the Webby Awards effective interacivity is, "input/output, as in searches, chat rooms, e-commerce and gaming or notification agents, peer-to-peer applications and real-time feedback." The forum also lists advice, “empowering you to search and find the customs and certifications necessary to import /export goods to/from your country.” Importing goods from China is a formidable task that many individuals are immediately repelled once informed about the regulations. Alibaba.com is a forum where users can not only read about the regulations, but can interact through a virtual blog which allows questions and comments to be posted and discussed.

Alibaba.com offers an abundance of resources. Several areas of improvement, nonetheles should be further addressed. By shrinking the “categories” section, the homepage will appear less intimidating. Through the use of graphics, a user can seamlessly guide hiself down the page and fully capture everything Alibaba.com has to offer. Sidebar links such as “About Us” and “Advice to Importing” may eliminate barriers to entry. This could eliminate hesitation for common consumer. By informing the customer and making them feel at ease, Alibaba.com can vastly increase their customer base.

The emergence of Alibaba.com allows consumers to efficiently purchase goods without trade brokers or pricey liaisons and facilitates a virtual environment where the buyers are directly connected with the manufacturers—all with the click of a mouse.If one were to visit Alibaba.com with limited knowledge of international trade and e-commerce, they may find themselves a bit overwhelmed. According to the 2006 Webby Awards, a webpage devoted to honoring sites for excellence on the internet, content should “take a stand, have a voice, a point of view.” The home page of Alibaba.com, regretably displays inapplicable sidebar links forbidding the user to immediately access the category or topic they are looking for. They are not clear categories but list “hot products” and shortcuts for customers such as, “gold buyers” and “resources” for buying and selling. Although Alibaba.com allows immediate access to categories upon downloading, discomfort may occur for the users when they are immediately asked to search for a specific product from over thirty five different categories. If one were to select a sidebar link they would be directed to a new page with a small navigational bar titled “Search Gold Suppliers” on the upper half of the screen. Directly under the search bar, lie two overwhelming columns of industries where one may “browse by category.” This often results in inexperienced users shying away from downloading what could have been very useful information.

Alibaba.com offers an infinite amount of products from Chinese manufacturers, however the abundance of products and information is at the expense of simplicity and user disorientation. Web Style Guide, a site aimed at creating efficient websites that convey relevant and organized information state that the most successful e-commerce websites “kept things technically simple and basic. Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, and other successful Web commerce sites use remarkably spare page design schemes and simple text- or tab-based navigation systems.” Four tabs inhere upon the homepage of Alibaba.com, “Buy,” “Sell,” “Resources” and “My Alibaba”. The four tabs are basic navigational tools that offer no real depth and insight to the site. If one were to select ‘buy” he would immediately be directed to a page listing over thirty five categories, each with two or three subcategories. Within the new page of “buy,” there are no relevant sidebar links, instead they are advertisements which confuse and flood the user with products and selections.


Deprived of text and graphics on the homepage, which compels users to scroll down and inquire deeper into the site, Alibaba.com will be difficult in satisfying and heartening potential customers. However, “a rich set of graphic navigation and interactivity links within your Web pages will pull users' attention down the page, weaning them from the general-purpose browser links and drawing them further into your content.” Deficient graphics, music and sidebar links disincline users from proceeding further into the site and utilizing the efficient recourses Alibaba.com has to offer. Alibaba.com may overwhelm initial users and create some perplexity in navigating the site, but ‘Innovation’ is where Alibaba.com outperforms all enterprises within e-commerce. A feature not implemented by many sites, more specifically international business web pages, a live banner scrolls across the top of the screen allowing users to instantaneously purchase commodities from China such as rice,cameras and steel. This creates specific categories of competitively priced goods which are readily available for shipment, right at the buyer’s fingertips. If a user were to select, “buy 21 inch color TV,” one would be directed to New Tide (Shenzhen) Electronic Co., Ltd’s. profile page where the location and contact information is displayed as well as product specifications, when the product will be available, and shipment quotas.

The Webby Award’s judging process allocates points for a website’s structure and navigation and defines it as the “framework of a site, the organization of content, the prioritization of information, and the method in which you move through the site.” Alibaba.com allows the user great prioritization, but when evaluating organization and structure through simplicity and conciseness, Alibaba.com is clearly lacking. Upon initial presentation of the site, users may experience difficulty in locating categories because of the classification of products. If one were searching for twenty inch wheels for a vehicle, a popular product often manufactured in China, a user would locate the “automobile” category, and then proceed to the “wheel and tire parts” heading. Once the wheel and tire parts are downloaded, the user is flooded with parts and accessories that range from motorcycle rims to commercial tractor tires to glowing tire valves. A great selection of tire parts and accessories though has no category to search further, such as “rims or “wheels.” When attempting to narrow down the product results, a user may use the search bar located to the left of the screen. When used to search for “rims,” a wide product category came up once again, forcing the users to search through many irrelevant parts just to locate what they were looking for.

Although in the practice of manufacturing, prices are generally open to negotiation. Sale prices can be extremely beneficial to a dabbling consumer. If one were able to get a price range of a product, the outcome of a feasibility analysis can be quickly determined without lengthy discussions with the manufacturer. Prices will also captivate browsing customers looking specifically to capture a distinct segment within an industry.

As stated by Web Style Guide, the overall experience should "encompasses content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity, but it also includes the intangibles that make one stay or leave." The overall experience and ease of use makes Alibaba.com the ideal web site for individuals associated with the foreign trade industry. Furthermore, Alibaba.com's vast resources make it a necessary tool for the industry professional. Alibaba.com finally bridges the gap between buyers and sellers overseas, a gap that has long been considered to be an inevitable aspect of conducting international business. Aside from the initial information overload on the homepage, and below benchmark structure, the ability to bridge buyers and sellers with a few clicks of a mouse and virtually no middleman is a novel idea, and a concept Alibaba.com has executed well.

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