Embracing digital change to capture Asian markets

Maggie Zhou at the Future Asia Business Summit

Alibaba Group, the world’s largest retailer, has urged Sydney businesses to embrace new technologies and capitalise on the city’s world-class reputation to drive international e-commerce growth.


Maggie Zhou

Speaking at the City of Sydney’s Future Asia Business Summit, Managing Director of Alibaba Group Australia and New Zealand, Maggie Zhou, said Australian brands are in pole position to meet global consumer demand for quality products and services, but only if they embrace new digital platforms.

“In my view, there has never been a better time to be an Australian brand or retailer. Technology is a powerful enabler and has given local businesses unprecedented access to global markets. Sydney and the rest of Australia is renowned for its quality of life and through e-commerce consumers all over the world can buy the products that make this possible” Ms Zhou said.

The City’s third international Future Asia Business Summit has drawn together leading representatives from government agencies and the business community to explore opportunities and challenges for strengthening connections with Asia.

With the theme, ‘Entry of giant corporations into Australia – opportunities and challenges for Sydney businesses with a focus on the digital economy’, the event was attended by more than 350 representatives from tourism, retail, business chambers, education providers, the digital sector, creative industries, financial and professional services, as well as Chinese government and embassy officials.

During her speech, Ms. Zhou called on Australian retailers to respond positively to a period where entertainment, media, payments and shopping, both offline and online, are converging.

“I know some Australian businesses, particularly retailers, may be nervous about disruption and nervous about large, global players entering this market. However, Alibaba is here to partner with local businesses and build their brands in China and beyond.”

Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the largest internet companies in the world and in 2016 surpassed 3 trillion RMB ($568 billion) in sales, making it the largest retailer in the world.

Ms Zhou pointed to Sydney-based businesses such as BridgeClimb and Peter’s in the Sydney Fish Market that had all made it easier for Chinese visitors by tapping into Alibaba’s digital ecosystem.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the conference was an ideal opportunity to explore how Australia can attract more big businesses from Asia and for Australian businesses looking to enter foreign markets.

“It’s clear the digital economy presents strong opportunities for businesses looking to tap into rapidly growing markets in China and Asia,” the Lord Mayor said.

“In turn, major corporations are increasingly looking to cities to establish a local foothold. Sydney is taking full advantage of this trend and we have established our city as Australia’s leading knowledge based economy. Our stature as a global business hub is growing.

“Initiatives such as this summit are part of our work to ensure that Sydney is a supportive business environment and that our most talented companies and the entrepreneurs behind them can grow their business right here in Sydney.”

A Q&A session featured a distinguished panel of experts, including David Landers, General Manager, International Operations, Austrade; Bill Evans, Chief Economist of Westpac; Christine Holgate, CEO and Managing Director, Blackmores; and Tsuyoshi Kawashima, CEO, NTT Communications ICT Solutions.

Mr Evans said Australia’s growth prospects are closely aligned with developments in China.

“Channels through which China directly affects Australia include but are not restricted to residential construction, education and tourism, and coal and iron ore prices and volumes,” Mr Evans said.

“Official policies around infrastructure, housing and capital flows will be critical to Australia’s growth prospects over the next few years.”

Mr Kawashima believes Asia represented a significant growth opportunity for Australian businesses.

“Understanding the nuances of the local market and planning for the long-term are crucial success factors, but this needs to be underpinned by a robust IT strategy and a clear roadmap for growth to improve the odds for a successful expansion,” Mr Kawashima said.

According to Mr Landers, there are great opportunities for Australian service providers to export their services to the increasingly sophisticated Asian markets.

“Australia’s exports of modern business services including financial services, to ASEAN countries, have increased at an average annual rate of 12.1 per cent over the past 10 years. This is an important indicator of Australia’s future potential to sell larger volumes of modern business services into Asia,” Mr Landers said.

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