Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Alibaba Group: the ecommerce trends that will shape 2024

By Roland Palmer, General Manager, UK, Benelux, Nordics, Alibaba Group

After navigating significant changes over the year, businesses are optimistic about the future. According to Alibaba’s SME Export Barometer for Europe report, 66% of SMEs anticipate sales growth in the coming year. 

In addition, several trends are set to shape the ecommerce landscape in the coming year, including the digitalisation of cross-border trade, businesses becoming increasingly data driven, and the impact of AI on all aspects.

Continued digitalisation of B2B commerce 

In 2024, a growing number of innovative technologies, such as livestreaming and virtual reality, will help SMEs on their path to digitalisation. 

Livestreaming is expected to play an increasingly integral role as B2B sellers leverage this technology to present their products and operations to potential B2B buyers to build trust and reduce the need for expensive travel. Livestreaming was first used by Alibaba.com at its 2022 March Expo, an event which aims to connect buyers and sellers from around the world to help them discover new products, services, and possibilities to grow their business, and is growing in popularity. At this year’s March Expo livestreams were a huge success. More than 700,000 B2B buyers engaged with 50,000 livestreams and 60,000 manufacturers conducted livestreams – a 100% increase YoY – reflecting growing interest in digital technologies amongst B2B buyers and sellers. 

Similarly, virtual reality factory tours, which allow buyers to virtually explore supplier factories from the comfort of their office, are making international trade more seamless and efficient than ever before. During Super September, Alibaba.com’s biggest sales event of the year, more than 20,000 virtual reality showrooms were available.

These developments are driving the next wave of digital sourcing, with businesses recognising digital sales rooms as a means to ensure secure and efficient online spaces for transactions. 

Unlocking market insights 

The availability of technologies to enable SMEs to digitise their businesses increasingly rapidly, has ushered in new trends, including the integration of market insights to enhance everyday processes. According to a report by the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology, over 80% of businesses handle digital data, but up to a third of employees lack the skills to interpret it.

As we look ahead to 2024, businesses will focus on understanding and refining insights to enhance products and better understand their customer base. A recent report from Alibaba.com found that 77% of businesses experienced improved quality or customer service a result of insights gained from digital transformation initiatives.

B2B marketplaces will play a crucial role in driving growth, with 23% of SMEs noting a major benefit of online marketplaces was the ability to access niche competitor and market insights to enhance their operations. Businesses can also leverage tools like the free demand signal tool on Alibaba.com to examine both supply and demand, gaining valuable market insights that help position their products and brands effectively in the market.

AI-powered commerce

Generative AI is also likely to significantly disrupt e-commerce in 2024. It is seen as a mass leveller, allowing even small businesses to compete on the global stage with bigger competitors. For example, it can help overcome perennial challenges such as language and cultural barriers, high marketing and user acquisition costs, and talent shortages.

Many online marketplaces have already and will continue to integrate AI technologies into their offering. Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group recently piloted an AI-powered suite of application programme interfaces ‘Aidge’, which will help merchants to help boost conversion rates and cut costs. Similarly, Alibaba.com’s Image Search feature acts as a picture-led discovery channel. Users can submit a picture of any product, which is then instantly cross-checked against more than 200 million products from 200,000+ suppliers around the globe. This efficiently enables businesses to shop around for the best deals and drive margins. AI technologies such as these can potentially be a game-changer for businesses in 2024 and beyond.

Over the past year, businesses have navigated a myriad of economic hardships. However, 2024 provides cause for of optimism, with emerging trends in digitalisation, insights, and AI offering many opportunities for businesses to thrive.

Opinion

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