Alibaba pushes China’s social commerce model to the world, with influencer campaign on cross-border platform AliExpress

·4-min read

AliExpress, the cross-border e-commerce business of Alibaba Group Holding, aims to enlist more than 100,000 online influencers from around the world this year, helping create original content designed to attract and engage more users to the platform.

This social commerce strategy, which has proven successful in China, is being introduced overseas via AliExpress Connect, a new part of Alibaba’s English-language global business-to-consumer marketplace, according to a statement from AliExpress on Thursday. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

People who want to launch an influencer career can use AliExpress Connect to collaborate with the platform and the brands on the site, where they can get paid by commission for their original content, the statement said.

In three years, this programme is expected to build an army of influencers numbering more than 1 million, according to AliExpress. It is also expected to foster at least 100 key opinion leaders (KOLs), who will each earn more than US$1 million annually within the same time frame.

“As e-commerce continues to grow and ‘shoppertainment’ reshapes the landscape and changes the way people shop online, influencers and content creators are playing a more important role in driving retail transformation and e-commerce success,” said Wang Mingqiang, general manager of AliExpress.

The new influencer campaign will initially focus on Europe, where most AliExpress users are found in Russia, France, Spain and Poland. Alibaba’s international retail platform operates in more than 200 countries and regions, where about 60 per cent of users are under 35 years of age, according to the company.

It marks Alibaba’s latest effort to further expand the number of its consumers from overseas markets, where the trend of blending social media activity with online shopping is nowhere near as pervasive as it has become in China.

“You see this in live-streaming sales, which have become a great source of job creation and income in China, especially during the Covid-19 crisis, when offline businesses were forced to close, and people had to stay at home,” Wang of AliExpress said.

Luo Yonghao, whose failing smartphone venture Smartisan left him bankrupt last year, emerged as a major KOL when his three-hour live-streamed campaigns on ByteDance’s popular short video app Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, became a viral hit. He sold 110 million yuan (US$15.3 million) worth of products on April 1, when about 48 million Douyin users tuned in.

That was topped earlier this month by Gree Electric Appliances chairwoman Dong Mingzhu, known as the mainland’s “home appliances queen”. She sold 310 million yuan worth of goods in a three-hour live-streaming event on short video platform Kuaishou.

Why China’s tech chieftains have become live-streaming stars

Under the AliExpress initiative, its new influencers, who were either invited individually or through their agencies, can sign up with the programme using their social media accounts, including via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Google.

Still, overcoming consumer reservations on social commerce in mature markets, such as those in Europe and North America, will be no easy feat. “Strong uptake of ad-blocking, which is driven by ad-weariness, is a clear example of consumer backlash against any marketing that compromises their online experience,” according to a recent report on social commerce by market research company GlobalWebIndex. “On top of that, the rise of fake influencers has dented the credibility of social commerce among some consumers and businesses. The growth of social commerce is highly dependent on regaining consumers’ confidence concerning the use of personal data and eliminating fraudulent influencers from social platforms.”

Alibaba, however, is not expected to slow down on social commerce and its other international expansion plans. In September last year, the company reaffirmed its commitment to serve 2 billion consumers by 2036. Alibaba counted 780 million consumers in China and more than 180 million annual active consumers on its international marketplaces, such as AliExpress and Lazada, in its financial year ended March.

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