Alibaba on Tuesday announced that it's opening up Alibaba.com, its B2B e-commerce platform, to US sellers for the first time. The 20 year-old platform is already open to US buyers -- in fact, Alibaba says that one third of Alibaba.com's buyers are US businesses. Opening it up to US sellers puts the Chinese e-commerce giant more squarely in competition with Amazon and others in the growing B2B online market.
"If you want to sell more products in the US, this is a good place to do it," Alibaba's President of North America B2B John Caplan said on CNN.
Alibaba has already signed up Office Depot and the global produce company Robinson Fresh as sellers on the marketplace, but it's primarily targeting small businesses. Caplan noted that 70 percent of small US businesses are not yet digital.
"Most small businesses are not digital, and they trade locally with their customers," he said. "If you're a Washington State apple grower, if you're a baseball bat maker in Louisville, those businesses want customers around the US, and we've got millions on the platform."
The Chinese company says there are 10 million buyers in 190 countries on Alibaba.com. For now, however, US sellers won't have access to the Chinese market. Along with buyers in the US, Alibaba says the platform offers access primarily to buyers in India, Canada and Brazil.
Rather than taking a cut of sales, Alibaba.com is offering US sellers access to its platform for a startup fee and monthly membership fees. For the first year, fees come to about $2.400. Sellers will get access to marketing tools and a US-based support team. Additionally, the company promises, "Unlike other platforms, Alibaba.com lets you to do business your way, own your data, and own your customer relationships."
Alibaba will be promoting the marketplace to SMBs on a national tour, with events organized in partnership with local business groups.
Data suggests there's still plenty of room for digital growth in B2B sales. E-commerce sales on websites, login-portals and marketplaces surpassed $1 trillion for the first time in 2018, according to a recent report -- but nearly 50 percent of B2B sales were still processed in manual transactions. Amazon launched its own B2B platform, Amazon Business, in 2015 and hit the one-million customer mark just about two years later.