Two strategies are absolutely crucial for the future: a Chinese one and a digital one. This is the conviction of Roland Palmer, Alibaba Group‘s Managing Director for the United Kingdom, the Nordics and the Benelux. At the RetailDetail Congress, Thursday 28 April, he reveals his vision – with a Chinese flavour.
Covid has accelerated e-commerce growth and penetration tremendously. Is there a slowdown to be seen now the restrictions are lifted? How do you see e-commerce penetration evolve post-Covid?
“The pandemic has fundamentally changed our everyday life but also accelerated digital adoption and transformation. We have seen a change in people’s consumption habits. During the pandemic, almost everyone became an online consumer, no matter how digitally savvy they had been.
We also saw rapid growth of many new consumption categories that previously have had relatively low online penetration, such as daily necessities and groceries. Even as lockdown measures eased in China, the demand and popularity of these new categories remained strong.
It has also shown that a China strategy – and a digital strategy – are going to be absolutely critical for success in the future. My advice to companies of all sizes, and particularly SMEs, is to take action now and develop different channels to strengthen resilience to disruption in demand.”
Alibaba has coined the term New Retail, merging online and offline commerce. Can we expect physical Alibaba store concepts in Europe? And what does the store of the future look like in the West?
“New Retail, which integrates a merchant’s online and offline stores, operations and inventory to provide consumers with a seamless shopping experience, anytime and anywhere, online and offline, has proven very efficient in helping our merchants navigate the pandemic.
In Europe AliExpress has opened physical stores in Spain, starting in Madrid and Barcelona back in 2019. We have learnt a lot from that. As the entire retail industry embraces digitisation, retail formats and business models are set to undergo further transformation in the future.”
In China, new shopping formats such as group purchasing and live stream shopping are on the rise. How do you see this pan out in the West?
“For European brands and retailers China offers a great opportunity to learn and in turn to take impulses for the domestic market – in addition to the fact that the country is one of the largest sales markets in the world. On average, Chinese consumers are much more tech-savvy than their European counterparts.
While we still think about ‘mobile first’ and are happy to get an answer to a service request by email on the same day, ‘mobile only’ has long prevailed in China and an answer is expected within seconds via live-chat.
Indeed, live streaming has been an excellent way for brands and retailers to interact directly with their customers during the pandemic, including European brands on our platforms in China. So a good way for European brands to prepare for live streaming in Europe is to already do it now in China. We can help them do that.”
What are Alibaba’s goals and ambitions in the short and in the long term for the Benelux? What are the concrete projects or expansion plans for 2022?
“When we look at brands from the Benelux region it is encouraging to see that hundreds of Dutch and Belgian brands sell on Alibaba’s Tmall and Tmall Global B2C platforms, including Godiva, Dove, Duvel, Rituals and WHC.
The next step for us is to support more and more small and medium-sized businesses. We want to help them digitize and succeed in the global marketplace. We believe that technology can level the playing field, and that even small companies have the opportunity to be global companies.
We see three great opportunities for Dutch and Belgian brands to take part in global trade through our platforms:
in China, we are continually innovating on Tmall and Tmall Global so that it is becoming more accessible also for smaller brands.
in other markets outside of China, we have B2C platforms such as Lazada (South East Asia) and Trendyol (Turkey), which is currently very open to more European brands joining.
globally, companies can export to 190 countries for a relatively low cost through our B2B wholesale platform Alibaba. One of our aims is to help Dutch and Belgian SMEs export their products, through dedicated training, specialist assistance and the promotion of sellers on Alibaba.”
The RetailDetail Congress will take place on 28 April in Antwerp. Other speakers include Zalando, Odette Lunettes, IKEA, Polestar, Samsung and many more. Access more information and tickets via this link.