Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is not just an e-commerce company that can create $14 billion in online sales in 24 hours. With near-constant investments, the Hangzhou-based company has evolved into a business empire, aiming to serve more consumers beyond its current 400 million active users.
Alibaba spent about $18.3 billion to invest in 65 companies, including acquiring eight companies and investing in 15 overseas businesses, according to China-based market data company IT Orange.
Alibaba’s major investment sectors are e-commerce, entertainment, finance, enterprise solution & technology, and online to offline, according to IT Orange. In China, O2O or online to offline, refers to a way for Internet companies to develop mobile apps that connect local services, such as a dry-cleaner, with online users.
Alibaba continued to invest in the technology vendor sector, but total spending in this sector was still small, IT Orange says. Alibaba also reduced investments in healthcare and travel companies in 2015, compared with 2014.
Alibaba in 2014 invested in 40 companies by spending more than $17 billion, including stakes in two healthcare companies and two travel companies, according to IT Orange.
Those 65 companies—including Chinese ride-hailing app Kuaidi, travel site Wanzi.com, Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post, China-based shipping company YTO Express and Chinese film studio Bona Film Group—operate in various industries but could help Alibaba build a more diversified business to offer more services more efficiently.
“Alibaba has been a giant online corporation with diversified businesses ranging from marketplaces, retail and payment to travel, entertainment, transportation and other businesses. Alibaba doesn’t need to focus (on one) as it knows all those industries from its home market,” Ralf Gladis, founder and CEO of payment firm Computop Inc., tells Internet Retailer.
Take YTO as an example. YTO says its shipping network covers 2,300 Chinese cities and about 43% rural villages. The company says the partnership with Alibaba helps it improve efficiency and expand into rural areas and global market. The company says it delivered 3.3 billion parcels in 2015, compared to 2.1 billion in 2014. 70% parcels delivered by YTO were generated by e-commerce orders and about 70% of those e-commerce parcels came via Alibaba Group businesses.
In 2015, YTO reduced delivery time by investing more in air transportation. The company purchased three Boeing B737-300 airplanes to further reduce some cross-province delivery times from three days to one day. YTO also worked with many regional shipping companies to build an international network that covers eight countries, including Japan, Korea and Germany.
YTO says Alibaba’s support also includes data and information. Alibaba sends feedback from online shoppers to YTO so the shipper can find and fix the problem faster than before.
In 2015, Alibaba increased its strategic investments in 20 large companies. Some investments have topped several hundred million dollars, including investing in The Postal Savings Bank of China; Suning Commerce Group, No.3 in the Internet Retailer 2015 China 500; and Chinese smartphone maker Meizu, No. 168.
Alibaba also acquired eight companies, including the Chinese version of YouTube, Youku.com. Youku.com says videos played on its site have topped 600 million times per day in 2015. Alibaba bought Youku.com for $4.67 billion.
Alibaba’s 15 overseas investments in 2015 mainly focus on e-commerce, entertainment and technology. IT Orange estimates Alibaba spent about $2.5 billion for stakes in those companies, including e-commerce companies Jet.com and Zulily.com.
Alibaba declined to confirm the information from IT Orange but says the company may have invested in more than 65 companies in 2015 because it also invested in many small startups.
Alibaba’s investment goal is to learn the best practices from others and then use them to improve its operations in China and global markets, according to Alibaba’s IPO filing document.
“Alibaba is just trying to get insight into the next big thing with the goal of eventually importing the tech back home where they have the world’s largest Internet audience. They’re investing in U.S. companies because this is where tech innovation is happening,” Laura Swanson, senior consultant at omnichannel consulting firm FitForCommerce, tells Internet Retailer, “Essentially they’re giving themselves a front-row seat to watch these companies so that by the time certain products or services reach China, Alibaba will have the control.”
Alibaba already leads in some areas. “Alibaba is not only bigger than Silicon Valley companies, it is also more innovative in many areas. Working with both PayPal and Alipay, we know by experience that Alipay is far ahead of PayPal when it comes to payment innovations. For instance, Alipay customers can use their (mobile) wallet in many bricks-and-mortar retail stores, and they get excellent services including hassle-free tax-return services when they shop abroad,” Gladis says.
By investing in U.S. e-commerce companies like online marketplace Jet.com, Alibaba could understand consumer behavior on both ends of the world to help U.S. merchants selling to Chinese consumers as well as help Chinese merchants selling to U.S. consumers, Gladis says.
For more Chinese e-commerce data, please click here for Internet Retailer China 500.