Q&A: John Caplan, president, North America & Europe, Alibaba.com, shares his insights on trends in B2B ecommerce. He will also address the challenges and opportunities all types of companies face selling online internationally at the June 17 event, “Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success,” hosted by Digital Commerce 360.

As president, North America & Europe, for global B2B marketplace Alibaba.com, John Caplan has an in-depth view of what it takes for companies of all types to succeed in international B2B ecommerce. This Thursday, June 17, he will address successful international online commerce strategies in a presentation at Digital Commerce 360’s virtual event, “Breaking the Barriers to Ecommerce Success.”

We caught up with him to get his insights on important trends in B2B ecommerce.

The accelerated shift to digital platforms sped up the next digital era of globalization for small and medium-sized companies.

DC360: What is driving B2B companies like Alibaba to expand online?


John Caplan

Caplan: We saw nearly two decades of change in just a few weeks amid the disruption of the pandemic as B2B companies realized getting digital and joining the ecommerce community is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have to bridge from surviving to thriving.

In our surveys of over 5,000 U.S. B2B companies, we saw a significant increase among B2B companies moving from analog buying and selling processes—like phone, fax and in-person meetings and trade shows—to online channels. And the growth online matured from internet 1.0 transactions over email and website order forms to ecommerce platforms, including buying and selling on marketplaces and marketplace apps.


The conversation around scaling online has clearly shifted from “if” to “how” and “how fast” given the vast digital opportunity.

DC360: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?

Caplan: With the need to digitize due to the pandemic, small and medium-sized manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, among others, rapidly adopted ecommerce. On Alibaba.com, the number of U.S.-based companies joining the platform doubled in the past year, again making the U.S. the fastest-growing market for supply. And U.S. companies are increasing their B2B trade—both domestically and globally—on the platform: overall transactions by U.S. businesses actually increased more than 150% in the past year.

Our mission is to make it easy for small and medium-sized businesses to do business anywhere, and the companies joining to sell on the platform are realizing the gains of having Alibaba.com as their essential ally in their digital and global growth journey.

DC360: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on how to launch online B2B sales or increase them?

Caplan: Find the right partner and get started. But know that not all ecommerce options or platforms are created equal. On Alibaba.com, 100% of sales are by third-party sellers because we don’t create products or compete with our customers. Our customers’ success is our success, which is why we provide hands-on support to get sellers’ digital storefronts up and optimized to meet the massive global demand searching for products made in the U.S. every day.

DC360: What existing trends will the pandemic accelerate?

Caplan: While the pandemic disrupted traditional cross-border trade, we actually saw a rapid increase in global trade on the Alibaba.com platform. The accelerated shift to digital platforms sped up the next digital era of globalization for small and medium-sized companies.


We saw this in our data as well: when we asked U.S. B2B sellers last September why they went digital, the top reasons were to access customers, increase profits, reduce the need to travel, and reach international markets. In fact, access to global demand grew significantly in importance during the pandemic, increasing from 20% of U.S. sellers in December 2019 to 27% of sellers in September 2020.

DC360: What post-pandemic needs will become opportunities?

Caplan: The pandemic has changed B2B trade forever. It forced every company to recognize the convenience and efficiency of digital, which opened up access to the global market. And while we’re all excited to get together at trade shows and meet in person again, the fact is there are still many international travel restrictions and barriers to the old ways of trade. That’s why we’re continuing to host online trade shows like our Alibaba.com Online Trade Show | Summer running from June 14th through the 27th.

We know the new digital behaviors are here to stay—and the need for efficient access to global demand is why B2B ecommerce will just keep growing.

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