The Lesson to Learn from Alibaba is not what you think it is
From $14/hour English school teacher to running a $160 billion market cap firm, Jack Ma has transcended much. Many of us in the retail industry will out of awe think that we should 'go big on ecommerce' as a result of this massive IPO.
However, retailers would be wise to think multiple steps down the chess board rather than just cannibalizing their own off line business by imitating a digital disruptor like Alibaba. The shrewd play here is to embrace the digital disruption with 'Digital Enablers'. Imagine you are Tesco, Homebase, John Lewis, etc – embrace the ROPO customer (Research Online Purchase Offline) with Locafox or the opportunity to help customers manage their loyalty cards with Mobile Pocket. Itembase are assembling and aggregating merchandising data from receipts which give retailers huge insight into what to sell and how to buy.
Fast on the heels of Alibaba will be another ecommerce giant, Rocket Internet, led by the three German Samwer brothers. Their trajectory has been impressive as well, but this is so 2007. The real opportunity today is to help the Digital Davids dance with the Retail Goliaths, creating new digital revenue streams. If every retailer re-imagined their industry as an ecosystem, and opened up to become a platform with cloud technology (IBM's Bluemix will be a player), they could engage with the Ap Economy. The reason to do this is that the revenues that follow are net new revenues from a growing industry. Every successful participant in the digital economy whether David or Goliath challenges him/herself with the profitability and expanding revenues of their industry not just their company.
This is what the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Apple know with their ap stores and marketplaces: be the highway and let the cars drive over you, but create the economic model and pick up your toll.