How Alibaba's generative AI testing seeks to empower smaller e-commerce sellers

More than 15 APIs, spanning content localization and customer service, are available for software developers to test generative AI use cases for e-commerce platforms.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
SOPA Images/Getty Images

Alibaba's e-commerce business unit is on the hunt for software partners to test generative artificial intelligence (AI) use cases on its large language models. 

Accessible via a suite of application programming interfaces (APIs), called Aidge, the AI models are trained on data insights gathered from across the Chinese tech giant's global e-commerce operations. 

Also: Generative AI in commerce: 5 ways industries are changing how they do business

More than 15 APIs now are available with the pilot launch of Aidge on Monday, for independent software vendors (ISVs) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors to develop and test use cases. The APIs span several commerce-related applications including consumer insight, content localization, design, and customer service, announced Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group during the launch in Singapore. 

The Alibaba e-commerce business unit is one of six business units created early this year following a major organization-wide restructure, which also saw Cloud Intelligence Group and Cainiao Smart Logistics Network spun off as separate units. Alibaba International operates Alibaba's international commerce retail businesses, including Lazada, AliExpress, Trendyol, and Daraz. 

Asked if Aidge is built on Alibaba Cloud's foundation model Tongyi Qianwen, a spokesperson would only say that the former runs on Alibaba International's "proprietary" large language and computer vision models.

Tongyi Qianwen is Alibaba Cloud's own large language model, launched in April this year, which is touted to power all of Alibaba's business applications in the "near future". This aims to improve user experience across the company's products and services, including e-commerce, search, and navigation. 

Aidge is available to software partners in and outside of Singapore to run pilots, the spokesperson told ZDNET. Daraz and AliExpress currently are among those running tests on the AI suite. There also are "external customers" involved in the pilots, though the Alibaba International spokesperson did not provide details.

Also: 3 ways to secure the best AI partner for your business 

Asked if the APIs are accessible on a subscription model, she said more details will be revealed at a later stage. 

Pilot tests on Aidge are expected to continue through to December, with the APIs to be rolled out region by region in early 2024, said Zhang Kaifu, vice president of Alibaba International, during the launch. 

Noting that many merchants on Alibaba's e-commerce platforms are small and midsized businesses (SMBs), Zhang said these sellers face several common challenges as they look to market their products beyond their local markets. Language and cultural barriers, shortage of talent such as in design and customer service, as well as cost and market competition, are key roadblocks for these businesses, he said. 

AI can be leveraged to solve these challenges and bring about cost and operational efficiencies, he added. Multilingual large language models for e-commerce, for instance, can generate local consumer insights and content localization, while AI-powered content production can be tapped for marketing and user acquisition campaigns. 

Also: How AI reshapes the IT industry will be 'fast and dramatic'

These AI models can analyze consumer reviews and present relevant information with local context, delivering more engaging and effective marketing and boosting customer acquisitions.  

For example, Aidge can generate product titles and descriptions in the market's native language that are "culturally authentic", Zhang said. A charger plug adapter would be described as such in the UK, but referred to as a "power plug adapter" in the US where the imperial system would be used for dimensions, compared to the metric system for UK-listed products. 

Aidge APIs currently support 18 languages, including French, Korean, Spanish, Thai, Chinese, and English. 

AI drives the ability to scale access to tools and skills that would not otherwise be available to businesses, said Tatiana Palhares, Daraz's chief product officer, who was at the launch. She noted that inequality of such access was particularly visible in this region, where larger brands were more effective in listing their products online compared to smaller sellers. 

Also: Global players look to create baseline to evaluate generative AI applications

Limitations in access to tools can prove a major barrier to growth, Palhares said. Daraz is testing Aidge in content generation and customer service, including chatbots, to help SMB merchants on its platform. 

The South Asian online shopping site plans to launch an enhancement to Daraz Instant Messaging later this month, facilitating communication between merchants and consumers with AI-generated prompts. 

"By empowering sellers to optimize their operations and online stores through AI, we can help them free up their time and spend time on what truly matters: growing their business," Palhares said.

Alibaba International also is rolling out Aidge to merchants on its e-commerce platforms, with the aim to support more SMBs through ISV and SaaS partners. 

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT and other noteworthy alternatives

"Today's pilot launch of Aidge marks only the beginning," Zhang said. "The novelty of AI technologies calls for our collaboration with SaaS partners worldwide to not only test but also co-define its use cases."

Alibaba International's platforms operate in more than 190 countries and have 305 million annual active customers. Alibaba.com serves 200,000 sellers, while AliExpress has 300,000 sellers. Lazada is a platform for 1 million sellers, while Daraz serves 650,000 sellers. 

Editorial standards