Alibaba brings more imported apparel to online shoppers in China
More foreign apparel brands will be offering their products on the online marketplaces of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. as the Chinese e-commerce giant moves to make it easier for brands to complain about counterfeits and knockoffs.
Alibaba announced this week deals for 160 brands from 110 apparel chains to sell on Tmall.com, the more brand-friendly of its two big online shopping malls. More than 20 of those brands, Alibaba says, including Timberland and Decathlon, will not sell on any of the other big online marketplaces in China that compete with Tmall.
With China’s growing middle class clamoring for imported goods, which many of them consider better quality than Chinese products, the big online marketplaces in China are stepping up their efforts to feature goods from outside China. Both JD.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 China 500, and Amazon.cn (No. 5), a unit of Amazon.com Inc., have created portals featuring goods from the United States and other countries.
Timberland is part of VF Corp., No. 104 in the Internet Retailer 2015Top 500. Decathlon is a French maker of sports equipment and apparel.
In a separate announcement, Alibaba said Thursday that it had introduced an English-language version of its online system for reporting goods on its online marketplaces that infringe on the copyrights of other brands. Foreign brands regularly complain that sellers offer fake versions of popular brands of apparel, accessories, electronics and other items on Tmall and particularly on Taobao, Alibaba’s bazaar-like site featuring goods from some 10 million merchants.
The new Alibaba system, called TaoProtect, allows companies to file complaints about products on Taobao and Tmall that they contend violate copyrights, patents or trademarks. Alibaba offers a similar system, AliProtect, for posting complains about intellectual property infringement on its global wholesale site, Alibaba.com, its international retail site AliExpress.com and 1688.com, a wholesale marketplace that sells to Chinese companies. Alibaba says it investigates complaints and takes down products that violate a brand’s intellectual property rights.
The American Apparel and Footwear Association has repeatedly complained about Alibaba being slow to remove counterfeit or unauthorized goods from its marketplace, most recently in an open letter released last month. The organization was not satisfied by Alibaba’s announcement.
“As we said in our letter, any system put in place needs to be transparent, fast, and comprehensible, and the ultimate metric of a program is whether counterfeits are permanently removed,” the trade association said in a statement. “Providing the program in English may make it more accessible, but an unworkable program in English is still an unworkable program. We laid out four elements that are needed: (1) easy brand certification; (2) brand- controlled “take-downs”; (3) brand-approved sales; and (4) a transparent verification process. We have yet to hear from the company.”
Zia Daniell Wigder, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst who specializes in international e-commerce, says the latest move is an example of Alibaba seeking to become a more global company. “One of the early challenges of working with Alibaba was that a lot of the critical information was available in Chinese only,” Wigder says. “Over time, Alibaba has made more content available in English. For brands, this means they have greater access to information as opposed to having to rely exclusively on their local teams in China. Having the option to register complaints in English also helps quell the angst of business leaders who fear the many challenges of the Chinese market and their ability to surmount them.”
Alibaba took another step toward expanding beyond China this week when it appointed Michael Evans, a former vice chairman of investment bank Goldman Sachs, to head up Alibaba’s global expansion initiatives.