What Is the Chinese Amazon?

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When we think of e-commerce, one of the first companies that come to mind is Amazon. However, in China, the e-commerce landscape is dominated by a different giant – Alibaba. Often referred to as the “Chinese Amazon,” Alibaba has revolutionized the way people shop and sell online in China. But what exactly is Alibaba, and how does it compare to Amazon?


The “Chinese Amazon” refers to Alibaba, the dominant e-commerce platform in China. Founded by Jack Ma in 1999, Alibaba operates as a middleman between buyers and sellers, much like eBay. It offers a wide range of products through its platform, Taobao, and has a significant impact on both the local and international e-commerce scene. Despite facing challenges, Alibaba continues to grow, setting new standards in online shopping.

A Brief History of Alibaba

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, a former English teacher, along with a team of 17 friends in Hangzhou, China. The company began as a business-to-business (B2B) portal connecting Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers. Today, Alibaba is a global e-commerce, internet, and technology conglomerate, with a market value of approximately $550 billion.

Alibaba vs. Amazon: The Business Model

Unlike Amazon, which operates as a massive retailer for both new and used goods, Alibaba operates as a middleman between buyers and sellers. Its core business resembles that of eBay, where it facilitates the sale of goods between parties through its extensive network of websites. Alibaba does not charge listing fees or storage fees, making it an easier model than Amazon.

The Popularity of Alibaba in China

In China, Alibaba dominates the e-commerce market, accounting for around 47.1% of the market share. The company’s platform Taobao is particularly popular among consumers, offering a wide range of products from clothing and accessories to electronics and home goods. Alibaba’s growth rate has also been impressive, with the company’s Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) reaching $1.2 trillion in 2020.

Alibaba’s Impact on the Local and International E-commerce Scene

Alibaba’s influence stretches beyond China’s borders. On the international scene, Alibaba and Amazon are the global leaders in cross-border e-commerce. Alibaba’s AliExpress marketplace, which offers inexpensive goods from Chinese manufacturers, is widely used by consumers around the world.

However, Amazon’s decision to exit the Chinese market in 2019 has created opportunities for local players to gain a larger market share in China’s booming e-commerce landscape. This could lead to an increase in demand for imported goods on platforms like Alibaba and JD.com as customers seek alternatives to Amazon.

Challenges Faced by Alibaba

Despite its success, Alibaba has faced several challenges. These include stiff competition from local e-commerce giants such as JD.com, regulatory hurdles, and issues with counterfeit products and third-party seller policies. Furthermore, the company has been scrutinized for its handling of personal data and criticized for its crackdown on Chinese merchants over fake reviews.

Alibaba’s Unique Features

What sets Alibaba apart from Amazon are features such as its flexible structure, focus on the Chinese market, government support, and its own secure payment system, Alipay. These unique features have contributed to Alibaba’s dominance in the Chinese e-commerce market and its ability to compete on the global stage.


So, what is the Chinese Amazon? It’s a dynamic, powerful e-commerce platform that has not only transformed the way people shop in China but is also making a significant impact on the global e-commerce scene. Despite facing challenges, Alibaba continues to grow and evolve, setting new standards in the world of online shopping. Whether you’re a consumer or a business owner, it’s a platform worth understanding and exploring.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Taobao?

Taobao is one of Alibaba’s most popular platforms. It’s an online shopping website similar to eBay and Amazon where consumers can buy from a wide range of product categories. It’s particularly known for its customer-to-customer (C2C) retail by providing a platform for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to open online stores.

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is another platform owned by Alibaba. Unlike Taobao which is primarily domestic, AliExpress is made for international buyers, allowing them to buy directly from Chinese manufacturers and wholesalers.

What is Alipay?

Alipay is Alibaba’s online payment platform. It’s one of China’s leading third-party online payment solutions, providing an easy, safe, and secure way for millions of individuals and businesses to make and receive payments on the Internet.

Why did Amazon exit the Chinese market?

Amazon decided to exit the Chinese market due to stiff competition from local e-commerce giants like Alibaba and JD.com. Despite its global success, Amazon struggled to capture a significant market share in China.

What are some of the regulatory hurdles Alibaba has faced?

Alibaba has faced regulatory hurdles both in China and abroad. In China, the government has been tightening regulations on internet companies regarding monopolistic practices and data security. Internationally, Alibaba has faced scrutiny over its handling of user data and its listing practices.

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