Changing How Americans Think of China Through the Alibaba Gateway Conference

What comes to mind when Americans hear the word “China”?

For most people, an image of endless factories in Southern China appears. Grey, dull, full of lines and lines of workers with safety gloves, assembling trinkets on a conveyor belt. Sweat coupled with machine-like efficiency. Outside of the factory, most people live simple lives.

It is amazing how little Americans know about China. I am also guilty of this. When I first came to mainland China as a high-schooler, I was blown away.   It’s the opposite of what I thought China was like. It’s modernizing fast, the streets were wide and clean, and crazy tall buildings everywhere!

By now China’s break-neck pace of growth is not a new story. Yet most Americans still think of China as a country that produce things, not consume things. Alibaba is in the business of Chinese consumption. We wanted to change that perception so more American businesses can enter the Chinese market and sell to consumers there.

When I heard about the conference, I wanted to be part of it right away. Myself and a group of three other Americans then recently finished our rotation at Tmall Global, Alibaba’s cross-border B2C arm. We helped companies from around the world enter the Chinese market everyday for five months. I wanted to take what I’ve learned in front of a bigger audience.

The organizing team assigned me to the content team. This team is  in charge of creating the content for the breakout sessions in the conference. These sessions will explain at a business-level what are the opportunities in China. They will also explain how brands can work with Alibaba as part of their Chinese market strategy.

I get to work with more than six different departments (or we call them ‘business units’) within Alibaba. I was responsible for bringing to life the work that they do. Alibaba is a complex company. It is incredible how much work there is to explain the different business units to an American general audience! Did you know that we sell everything from cars to airplane tickets?

Alibaba ecosystem picture

What stood out to me the most was how the conference organizers designed the event for the attendee in mind. Let me show you an example of my friend Jake who came to the event in Detroit on June 20th-21st.

Jake works for a company that makes baby food. He’s been assigned at work to help with the company’s China entry strategy. After talking to a few people, he decided to attend the Gateway conference.

Jake flew to Detroit. First, he saw the keynote speeches from Jack Ma, fireside chat with Charlie Rose, Martha Sterwart. He also heard from a few CEOs of SMEs who’ve “made it” in selling to the Chinese market. He came back inspired about the opportunities that Chinese consumers present.

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Then he came to a session called “Everyday goods” to learn about consumer trends around everyday consumption items. Turns out, China is experiencing a mini baby-boom. There are lots of demands for imported baby food, since Chinese consumers perceive them as safe. Jake thought that there are plenty of opportunities for his company. They need to enter the market with the right strategy.

Everyday Goods Session Gateway

After lunch, Jake now asks “Now I’m inspired to sell to China. I understand more about the category opportunity. Now what’s the next step?”

Jake then attended the Tmall presentation. This is for brands interested in opening a storefront on Alibaba’s B2C platform. Jake weighted the option of his company doing so versus the wholesale option. Both are possible, with pros and cons. Jake now learns more about the process so he can make a better plan to present to his boss.

After the presentation, he visited some of the Third Party (TP) booths at the conference. These are Chinese companies who specializes in helping brands selling on Alibaba platforms. They operate the virtual store day-to-day.  If his company decides to sell to Chinese consumers, he will need to work with one. He thought it was convenient to have 20 of them in one place!

At the end of the conference Jake told me, “I was going to arrange a trip to China for my team. But because of this conference I’ve done the majorty of the leg work! Now our trip can be more targeted.”

I was very happy to hear Jake say that! I felt that our hard work of organizing this conference has paid off if at least half of the audience think that way. Based on the positive feedback we receive of the Detroit conference, Alibaba is hosting another Gateway conference in Canada at the end of September. I will also be helping this conference along with a few new AGLA members. In Toronto on September 25th? Come check it out!

Ariana Alisjahbana Busch is the only Indonesian American member of AGLA Class #1. She graduated from the Berkeley-Haas School of Business and is enjoying her time in Hangzhou learning about Chinese people and culture.

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