Open Sesame, indeed. Thousands of years after the Arabian Nights, those words still hold the key to untold treasures as Alibaba, founded by Jack Ma in 1999, continues to defy gravity. At last report in July, Taobao, the company’s consumer-centric arm, had 145 million registered users, 43% of China’s netizens. Alibaba has been able to build on its marketplace to launch a products search engine; a “mall” featuring online storefronts for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Lenovo, and Uniqlo; and a mobile app that lets shoppers compare in-store prices with those on Taobao.
Alibaba, already renowned for having trumped eBay in China, has also had success competing against eBay’s PayPal. In 2009, it surpassed 200 million users for its Alipay online-payment service, doubling in size in a year and besting PayPal’s global numbers. At press time, Alibaba was reportedly in talks with Apple to incorporate Alipay into the Chinese App Store, kick-starting mobile commerce in the world’s third-largest economy.