Home » e-commerce » 2014: Jack Ma (Alibaba) going against Jeff Bezos (Amazon) et al.

2014: Jack Ma (Alibaba) going against Jeff Bezos (Amazon) et al.

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Core information:

What will happen in 2014 on the U.S. e-commerce market as a consequence of that?

This is something new to you? I suggest to read first my previous three analyses:
The Upcoming Mobile Internet Superpower [Aug 13, 2013]
The value of Taobao.com and TMall.com in China, as well as outside [Sept 2, 2013]
Alibaba to secure “centuries” of the future of an already “US$150 billion ecosystem of consumers, merchants and business partners” via an internal partnership (rejuvenated each year) of top executive owners (with just 10% of shares) also controlling the board [Oct 3, 2013]
If still in doubt read Amazon Vs. Alibaba: Game On [Seeking Alpha, Dec 26, 2013]

1. In 2013 the following strategic investments were already done in the U.S.:

image

2. Also because Jack Ma [is] Person of the Year by the Financial Times [CCTV News YouTube channel, Dec 30, 2013] for very good reasons

According to the Financial Times Person of the year: Jack Ma [Dec 12, 2013] this was given for a number of reasons from which I will quote only the following two excerpts:

Alibaba’s sales now exceed those of eBay and Amazon combined and make up about 2 per cent of China’s gross domestic product. Seventy per cent of all Chinese package deliveries come from Alibaba sales. Roughly 80 per cent of Chinese ecommerce transactions are conducted through Alibaba’s sites. And this is probably just the beginning, considering more than half of China is still offline. With 600m people using the internet and counting, China will soon overtake the US as the world’s biggest ecommerce market.

That 2% of China’s GDP would be about US$177 billions (given the forecast of 7.6% growth for 2013 and US$ 8230 billion for 2012 as per http://www.tradingeconomics.com/china/gdp). According to China’s economy projected to grow steadily, dynamically: economists [Xinhua, Jan 6, 2014]: “China was likely to maintain steady growth of 7.5 percent to 8 percent in real terms in 2014”. This means that Alibaba’s sales only (i.e. without Alibaba’s financial services, see below) contribution to China’s 2014 GDP could easily surpass US$200 billions by the end of this year.

Mr Ma is now setting his eyes on a new goal: shaking up Chinese finance. This has sent shockwaves through the staid, state-dominated financial sector and shows that his ambitions extend well beyond online retail.

3. Indeed, these January 2014 quotes from the Chinese media are providing extraordinary evidence regarding Jack Ma’s new goal of shaking up Chinese finance:

Tuning up for 2014 reform (2) [Jan 5]:
Carr at North Square Blue Oak … points out that e-commerce giant Alibaba Group’s Yu’ebao fund lured 100 billion yuan($16.5 billion) away from the country’s bank deposits in just four months.
“New innovative financial products such as this are already causing quite a lot of disruption to the financial system,” she says.
China Exclusive: Internet finance transforms China’s financial landscape [Jan 7]:
Last year was widely seen as “ground zero for Chinese Internet finance,” partly because of the phenomenon involving “Yu’E Bao (Leftover Treasure)”, a personal online finance product introduced in June by Internet giant Alibaba. It allows users to place their driblet savings — no less than one yuan — into a money market fund.
As of the end of 2013, Yu’E Bao had 43.03 million users with aggregate deposits of 185.3 billion yuan (30.4 billion U.S. dollars), the biggest single public fund in China. Internet finance has for the first time become part of life for many Chinese people.
China to set up fully private banks in 2014: CBRC [Jan 6]:
China will set up three to five fully private banks on a trial basis this year in a bid to further open up the banking sector to domestic and foreign capital, China’s banking regulator said Monday.
Private capital will be introduced to restructure current banking institutions or set up new ones bearing their own risks, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said in a work meeting.
Strict procedures and standards will be set for the pilots, with demanding set-up criteria, limited licenses, enhanced supervision and a risk handling system, according to the CBRC.
The CBRC will try to relax the threshold for foreign capital to enter China’s banking sector and ease Renminbi operation requirements, while more policies will be issued to support banking reform in the Shanghai free trade zone and financial reform pilot zone.
Tech in China 2013: High Hopes of Disrupting Domestic Financial Market excerpt #1:
The reform plan China’s central government released in November 2013 allows qualified private investors to set up banks.
Shanda, the veteran online gaming company, is the first Internet company that settled in the newly established Shanghai Free Trade Zone, planning to build Internet-based financial business and a joint bank there.
3rd payment firms enter the fray [Jan 7]:
Third-party payment companies, after a decade of fast development, are providing not only payment services but also services traditionally provided by banks, such as loans.
Among these companies, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd – China’s largest e-commerce company – has gone further than others. Alibaba plans to set up Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group to consolidate its online payment and micro loan businesses, and provide financial services for consumers and small and micro enterprises – those with an annual turnover of less than 30 million yuan (4.8 million U.S. dollars).
The company has made it clear that its two main business arms will be e-commerce and financial services based on its huge e-commerce data. The latter is thought to be a challenge to banks and may change the financial industry landscape due to the use of Internet technology and the huge amount of data that records users’ history and habits.
“For the past 13 years, Alibaba hasn’t thought of challenging anyone, but creating something new instead,” Alibaba’s Chairman Jack Ma said at an industry forum late March when asked whether his company aims to challenge banks.
“Banks are getting a bit nervous. But I think that getting nervous is good, and it would be strange if they aren’t,” Ma said.
“If banks weren’t nervous, China’s small and micro businesses would be nervous,” Ma added, hinting that banks fail to provide enough services to help small and micro enterprises raise funds.

Last year [i.e. in 2013], the total transaction volume processed by third-party payment companies reached 3.8 trillion yuan [$628B], an increase of 76 percent year-on-year, according to domestic research company Analysys International.
While the biggest player in the sector, Alipayoriginally acted only as an escrow between sellers and buyers, third-party payment companies are now offering a wide range of services, such as payment and settlement services, and micro loans.
Alibaba plans to launch a credit payment service for its mobile users, which gives them a certain credit limit based on their Alipay records.
Tech in China 2013: High Hopes of Disrupting Domestic Financial Market  excerpt #2:
It takes only one click to transfer the balance in an Alipay account to Yuebao on either the website or the mobile app, Alipay Wallet. The mutual fund is managed by THFund, a mutual fund company Alibaba bought a controlling stake in in 2013 —  THFund raised to the second biggest mutual fund company in terms of the total assets under management in 2013, up from lower than 50th one year ago, thanks to Yuebao. Users can use the money in Yuebao for online shopping anytime they like.
Yuebao’s slogan is “14 times of the return from banks”. It sounds attractive, but Yuebao doesn’t perform better than the average mutual funds. The convenience must be a key factor in attracting users. Another attractiveness is Yuebao shows returns daily.
Tech in China 2013: High Hopes of Disrupting Domestic Financial Market excerpt #3:
Apart from running a mutual fund by using user’s balance, there’s a bigger picture for Alipay.
Before long, several Chinese Internet companies launched online mutual funds and gave them similar names, such as Suning’s Yifubao, but none could be the same with Yuebao.
Alipay itself was established for Alibaba’s e-commerce marketplaces. When one user uses money in Yuebao for shopping on Alibaba’s platforms, that will be translated into transaction-based commission to Alibaba. If Yuebao is widely recognized and users would always deposit money into it, users don’t have to make payments through banks anymore. When it comes to the mutual fund itself, the more users on board and more money tansferred into it, the lower, theoretically, the risk.
Fan Zhiming, president of Alifinance for Domestic Market, said at an event last month that they’d possibly make Yuebao a default that any balance in an Alipay account would buy the mutual fund automatically.
Alifinance, the finance arm of Alibaba Group, has already disrupted China’s finance sector with services like Alipay and small loans for online retailers.
WeChat to face tougher competition in 2014 [Jan 2]
Instant messaging app WeChat has helped Chinese internet giant Tencent become the first company to secure a position in the mobile internet market, but it is expected to face greater competition from rivals, the Shanghai-based First Financial Daily reports.
One of the chief rivals is the Alibaba Group. An employee of the e-commerce business leader told the newspaper that the company was planning to target WeChat in four areastelecom services, its own IM app Laiwang [with a free data plan], vendors on its online platforms, and through the celebrities using the Sina Weibo microblogging service.
Sina and Alipay Launches Weibo Payment, to Fight against WeChat Payment [Jan 7]
Sina launched a payment solution, Weibo Payment, together with Alipay today. It is already available with the 4.2 version of Sina Weibo app released yesterday. Fan Zhiming , head of Alifinance for Domestic Market, made it clear that Weibo Payment is aimed at WeChat Payment when it comes to the convenience of making payments online or offline, and social shopping. He asked the audience to “forget about WeChat Payment” at the press conference today, saying Weibo Payment will perform better.
From now on all the items from Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall shared or shown as ads on Sina Weibo will have a “buy” button that will lead users to make payments directly with Alipay.

Alibaba, the parent company of Alipay, made a strategic investment in Sina Weibo last year, with not only cash but also a promise of bringing in no less than $380 million worth of advertising revenue for Sina Weibo through displaying Taobao/Tmall items in the next three years.
 

4. No wonder that Alipay has made significant inroads into the U.S. market during 2013:

    • Airlines, hotels and other travel enterprises can now easily connect to the more than 800 million Chinese account holders on the Alipay platform via the UATP Network.
    • Alipay is dedicated to meeting the needs of China’s vast and growing pool of keen overseas travelers by making it easier for them to pay for air tickets, book hotels, rent cars and make other travel-related purchases online from the world’s leading airlines and accredited travel agencies.”

image

    • Among the U.S. online retailers that’s begun accepting Alipay this year is iHerb Inc., No. 204 in the Internet Retailer. In the first six months of accepting the Chinese payment method, iHerb’s sales on the cn.iHerb.com subdomain of its web site aimed at Chinese consumers increased 244.52% compared with the prior six-month period and 684.15% compared with the same period a year earlier
    • Without disclosing the total number of U.S. sites accepting Alipay … there are about 10 web sites in the U.S. that already are generating more than 100 Alipay transactions per day. They include the e-commerce sites of retailers Gap Inc. Direct, No. 19 in the 2013 Top 500, and Forever 21, No. 353; travel site Travelzoo; web domain registrar GoDaddy and peerTransfer, which handles tuition payments for international students.
    • Meantime Alibaba Microfinance Service Group’s share structure revealed [Xinhua, Nov, 2013] which will clearly help in capitalisation of Alipay for U.S. expansion as well:
HANGZHOU, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) — Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, holds less than 7.3 percent of shares in the newly founded Alibaba Microfinance Service Group, revealed a shareholding structure report on Friday.
Forty percent of the shares are held by over 20,000 staff of the Alibaba Group and the Alibaba Microfinance Service Group, said the report.
That 40 percent, part of an incentives scheme to make “all staff shareholders,” includes Ma’s shares.
Ma also holds 7.3 percent of shares in the Alibaba Group.
The other Alibaba Microfinance shares are expected to be acquired by strategic investors in the future, according to the report.
Alibaba set up the Microfinance Service Group in March to integrate its payment and micro payment businesses.
The Alibaba Microfinance Group is not included in the portfolio of Alibaba Group’s much-discussed initial public offering.

5. As in addition to all that and according to How Alibaba Views International Expansion and Mobile: A Discussion With Joe Tsai [Forbes, Dec 11, 2013] 

One man who was with Jack from the beginning was Joe Tsai.  Alibaba’s longtime CFO, Joe recently moved up to Vice Chairman of the group and is actively involved in the group’s recent strategic investments.
I spoke to him recently about Alibaba’sinternational expansion plans and how it’s adapting its e-commerce platform for the mobile age we now live in.
1. Up until now, most Americans think about Alibaba Group as a Chinese-focused company.  What are your thoughts on international expansion for the group?
We think of international by what we can do in a cross-border context.  It’s one thing to think of exporting from China, which is what we have done a lot to date. But it’s another to situate ourselves in other countries. We’re just starting to do that.
We’ve always had a cross-border B2B business.
We also have AliExpress which is growing and scaling nicely. The concept for AliExpress is to bring Chinese manufacturers online and make a global B2C marketplace. eBay has done a cross-border marketplace well. AliExpress focuses on consumer markets in developing countries.  For example, we are the largest e-commerce site in Russia. We are also looking a lot at South America right now.
The next cross-border opportunity: there are millions of overseas Chinese in North America, Europe and Australia. They all want to buy from Taobao. How do we bring them back?  Every overseas Chinese consumer is like 3-4 native Chinese consumers in terms of purchasing power. There’s no language problem with them coming to our website, but we have to work on payment and logistics.
And on the flipside, we want to bring hundreds of millions Chinese to shop in the United States. This is something which American merchants get excited about.  With AliPay, we can enable Chinese consumers sitting in their home country to shop on, say, Saks Fifth Avenue, pay us in RMB, and we make sure merchants get the currency of their choice and handle logistics.
For us, international means starting with the cross-border opportunity. By analogy, if you look at how Facebook has grown in different countries, they started with cross-border as well. Facebook early adopters in foreign countries were all friends with people in the US. That’s how they built a critical mass of Brazilian early adopters who had friends in the US.  Later on, those early adopters pulled in other Brazilians to the platform and Facebook suddenly hit critical mass around the world.
2. Recently, Alibaba made key investments in Sina Weibo, AutoNavi, and ShopRunner in the US.  Tencent is rumored to be making an investment in Snapchat and has been seeing great success with WeChat.  Baidu has bought 91 Wireless.  The online video space is extremely hot right now in China.  How does Alibaba think about taking your core e-commerce services to mobile and dealing with such threats as the proliferation of Android and messaging platforms?
E-commerce is one segment that’s perhaps the most complex when it comes to mobile. You not only have to deal with browsing and selection but logistics and payment, which implies issues of reliability and security. Mobile adoption in e-commerce is a lot slower than in other consumer Internet verticals.  For example 50% of GMV on Amazon and eBay is not from mobile.  It’s more like 15%-20% – even though in the social networking context, like facebook, more than 50% of the users access the service from  mobile devices. Today, we are seeing high teens mobile penetration from mobile GMV in China.
We could sit here and be complacent about the rise of mobile because Taobao and Tmall have very good positions having captured large shares in mobile commerce, but we’re feeling the opposite. We’re seeing the future and we feel a strong sense of urgency when it comes to mobile.
Mobile commerce could really disrupt the traditional marketplaces in the PC environment. In mobile, there’s not a lot of screen room. E-commerce marketplaces are conducive to larger screens. People want to save time on a mobile small screen. Therefore, the whole model could be disruptive.
So, with mobile, we are shifting from a model of pulling users to pushing messages out to users.  Ebay’s web site is a destination. That’s pull.  In contract, mobile enables every merchant to push whatever message to a huge audience.
Alibaba Bet On Wireless Business With ALL IN Strategy, Aiming At 30% Market Share For Laiwang [TechNode, Oct 21, 2013]
Alibaba takes Laiwang, an IM tool released 4.0 version this September, as a breakthrough point for wireless business. The market share of Laiwang is expected to reach 30% in a bid to guarantee better user experience and to facilitate the expansion of other services.
Different to similar IM tools of WeChat and EasyChat, Laiwang targeted at pure friend interaction platform by introducing new features such as, burn after reading, an automatic message eliminating service, and the right to establish groups with up to 500 members. The company has launched large-scale promotion activities for Laiwang both internally and externally.
To complete the product lineup, the company will also zero in on Mobile Taobao, Ali OS as well as an imminent O2O [Online to Offline] service. The newly added users of Mobile Taobao exceeded 100 million in the first half of this year, while number of active users tripled that of the same period of last year. Sina Weibo account of Mobile Taobao-like Weitao recorded more than 50 million visitors.
Because of the disruptive elements of mobile, we’re not standing still. We have to move out of our comfort zone of e-commerce. We have to be more eclectic. While the Taobao app is already one of the most popular apps in China with hundreds of millions mobile users, you will see us doing our own messaging platform. We have something competitive to WeChat.  It has a lot to do with e-commerce, if you make it large enough.  Within the Taobao app we also have a “mini-app” that enable merchants to stay connected to their customers who subscribe to get feeds.  This is a very good tool for merchants to retain their existing customers, which lowers their cost of churn and ultimately lowers their cost of having to acquire new customers to replace the churn.
YunOS 2.3 云OS (Aliyun OS 2.3) 
[Multicorechina.com YouTube channel, Dec 16, 2013]
Introducing the YunOS 2.3
Alibaba merges two cloud subsidiaries [WantChinaTimes.com, Jan 8, 2013]
Aliyun
and net.cn [http://www.net.cn (万网 – WAN network or universal net) which is known as HiChina (en.hichina.com) in English], two cloud computing internet service companies under China’s largest internet company Alibaba Group, will be merged as a new company retaining the Aliyun name. … Net.cn’s services will remain unchanged, offering its users cloud computing and cloud emails with the continually upgrading system. The website is the largest domain name system provider and virtual server industry leader in China. …
Telecom licenses granted by MIIT [Global Times, Dec 26, 2013]
image
China’s top telecommunications watchdog issued licenses to the first batch of domestic mobile virtual network operators on Thursday, an attempt to further reshape the country’s telecom industry.
This move enables a total of 11 private firms – including e-commerce platform jd.com, cloud computing service provider net.cn, and Beijing-based communication service company DiXin Tong – to purchase mobile telecom services from the three State-owned telecom carriers and resell the services to consumers under their own brands, according to a statement released Thursday by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
As the parent company of net.cn, e-commerce giant Alibaba said in an e-mail sent to the Global Times Thursday that the license will help the company to offer customized telecom services to online shoppers and retailers, allowing it to further extend its e-commerce ecosystem.
We’re also doing an operating system for smartphones. The core strategy is to give users an experience that connects their hardware device to content and services in the cloud.  It’s an alternative to Android where an Android device is isolated from cloud-based services.
In mobile, the boundaries between e-commerce, communications, social networking, etc., become blurred.
Sina Weibo, often known as the Twitter of China, is a way for merchants who have Taobao store-fronts to stay in touch with their customers and for consumers to share what they like on Taobao, and that’s in part what drove our strategic investment in Weibo.  AutoNavi is not just a provider of navigation and map services.  They have one of the most popular “local services” apps in China that enable users to find restaurants and entertainment based on their locations.  Local services will play a big role in e-commerce in the future.
We will continue to find all kinds of new ways to reach our users in ways that best suit this new mobile environment we operate in.

6. Also Alibaba spinoff moves further into the cloud [People’s Daily, Dec 25, 2013]

A division of the e-commerce giant readies to take on US competition

E-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd will extend its cloud-computing services to overseas markets in March, as it attempts to grab a share of the public cloud arena from archrivals such as Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp.

imageAliyun, Alibaba’s spinoff cloud-computing division, is scheduled to set up data centers outside China to provide cloud-computing services to local enterprises and Chinese companies’ overseas operations, the company announced on Tuesday.

By building platforms for companies to manage and store data in the cloud, Aliyun will become the first Chinese company to reach out to the foreign public cloud segment, days after its US counterpart Amazon announced the launch of a similar services in China.

“After five years of development and three years of commercialization, Aliyun is able toprovide sustainable services to customers, backed by its resourceful parent, Alibaba,” said Aliyun director Zhang Jing.

The service recently gained the world’s first gold certification for cloud security from the British Standards Institute, a business standards company, which further guarantees its reliability, Zhang noted.

Zhang declined to disclose the first destination for Aliyun’s global outreach. But he implied two options: the United States (Amazon’s birthplace) or Southeast Asia, thanks to its proximity to domestic businesses.

As the country’s largest cloud-computing platform, Aliyun provides cloud computing services for hundreds of thousands of Chinese websites and e-commerce vendors, banks, game developers and others.

Three-fourths of the 188 million orders generated from the Nov 11 online sales day were processed by the Alibaba cloud-computing system.

Alibaba has made a consistent push into domestic cloud- computing enterprises. InSeptember, Alibaba acquired personal cloud storage service Kanbox.

In August, ChinaSoft International Ltd announced a strategic agreement with Aliyun and the Lishui municipal government for a State-funded cloud project in Zhejiang province.

Aliyun may team up with local telecom carriers to avoid local regulatory restrictions, Zhang noted.

7. Finally, as the result of extreme lucrativeness of organic growth in 2014 Alibaba to extend $8 billion loan to end 2014, buying more time for IPO: sources [Reuters, Dec 11, 2013]

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Wednesday it is seeking to extend the draw-down period of an $8 billion loan from January next year, a move people familiar with the e-commerce company’s plans said would buy it more time to launch an IPO.
The original expiry date of the draw-down period on the loan was January 30 of next year, according to the deal terms. Alibaba wants to extend that to December 31, 2014, sources familiar with the discussions said.
We have plenty of cash on the balance sheet and there is no need to draw down at this time, so we are extending the availability of funds to maintain flexibility,” the company said, without specifying a new date.
Alibaba said the funds will be used for corporate purposes. It has already used $5 billion from the loan facility to refinance its debt.
The $8 billion loan is a key part of Alibaba’s IPO plan, and the extension to the end of next year signals that the public float is remains a long way off.
China’s biggest e-commerce firm has struggled to reach an agreement with Hong Kong regulators over a partnership structure it hopes to use as part of an initial public offering (IPO), a deal that expected to be worth around $15 billion and which may take place next year.
Public comments by its founder Jack Ma and a statement from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in recent months, however, have raised the possibility of a Hong Kong listing.
The company has yet to outline a date or venue for the IPO. Under an agreement with its second biggest shareholder Yahoo Inc., Alibaba has incentives to complete an IPO before December 2015. [Note that Yahoo! Inc. is required to sell its 208mn shares of Alibaba concurrent with the IPO.]
All 22 lenders involved with the loan must agree to the extension.
The banks have until December 20 to respond to the extension request, and those responding in favor before Friday will get an “early bird” fee of $50,000 from the company if the move succeeds.

image

Note that there is no information yet on whether the banks extended their loans to Alibaba. The delay of the IPO is, however, so lucrative to the company that I would be rather surprised if it won’t be done. According to a latest analysis What’s the Best Way to Play 2014’s Hottest IPO? [The Motley Fool, Jan 6, 2014] “it’s not unrealistic to foresee a $200 billion valuation” even as Alibaba stands today. With all those extraordinary opportunities in Chinese finances, telecom etc. (described above) that valuation could increase significantly during the year. This means that the Alibaba Group will have much more new capital coming under Jack Ma’s control. And that is even more threat to Jef Bezos (Amazon) et al.

It is also important that Alipay is not part of that Alibaba Group IPO, so getting the strategic investors’ money (60%) will also significantly increase the additional capital that will come under Jack Ma’s control.


Details about Jack Ma and his strategic moves for the U.S. market in 2013

You can best understand the personality of the chairman of the Alibaba Group from Jack Ma Commencement Address at HKUST [Jim Erickson YouTube, Nov 8, 2013]

Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma gives the commencement address to the 2013 graduating class at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on Nov. 8, 2013.

So his devotion to the problems of the society is a quite inherent thing which was driving his life and still will continue to do so, as evidenced by this part of Jack Ma’s Last Speech as Alibaba CEO [Tech in Asia, May 13, 2013]:

Moving forward, I will be doing things that I’m interested in, such as working on education and the environment. Besides work, let’s work hard together to improve China. Let the water be clear, the sky be blue, and the food be safe. Everyone, please! (Jack Ma kneels down to the audience).

According to the Financial Times Person of the year: Jack Ma [Dec 12, 2013]:

But there is another reason for choosing Mr Ma this year: his decision in May to step down as Alibaba’s chief executive at the age of 48 to devote himself to tackling some of China’s biggest problems – in particular its looming environmental disaster.

The Resignation Speech of Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba Group [TofuSquare YouTube channel, May 15, 2013]

Yu Ma (Jack Ma), the CEO of Alibaba Group resigned from his CEO position on May 10th. The Alibaba Group is one of the most influential companies in China, and Yu Ma is one of the iconic figure for Chinese internet, e-commerce and high-tech industry . TheAli Group owns one of the largest online shopping platforms in China, Taobao. The Ali Group held a 40,000 people party in Hangzhou, China to celebrate Taobao’s 10th anniversary. Accompanying with the melody “Ali, Alibaba, Alibaba is a happy young man…” The CEO of Alibaba “Yun Ma” stepped down from his CEO position. Tofusquare have translated his speech for those of you who are interested.

According to Jack Ma TNC Board in China [The Nature Conservancy’s China Program, June 3, 2013]

Amid much fanfare, on May 10 Jack Ma stepped down as CEO from Alibaba, the business he built from scratch in his hometown of Hangzhou that is now one of the biggest companies in the world. On the very next day, May 11, he assumed the role of his latest endeavor: to help restore China’s environment by becoming the Chairman of the Board for The Nature Conservancy’s China Program.

Meanwhile with Jack Ma concentrating on a big strategic role as chairman of the Alibaba Group one must consider Alibaba’s Future IPO Plans [BizAsiaAmerica YouTube channel, July 14, 2013]

Phillip Yin interviews Ronald Wan of the Hong Kong Securities Institute on the future plans of Chinese E-commerce giant Alibaba to go public

The preparation for the IPO certainly includes international expansion plans as well. U.S. is already the place where one can see that:

Alibaba Group unveils U.S.-based investment organization [press release, Oct 22, 2013]

Strategy to back entrepreneurs with a focus on Internet commerce and emerging technologies

SAN FRANCISCO – Oct. 22, 2013 – Alibaba Group announced that it has established a U.S.-based investment organization that will look to back entrepreneurial teams working on innovative platforms, products and ideas with a focus on Internet commerce and emerging technologies.
Michael Zeisser, who joined Alibaba after leading Liberty Media Corp.’s strategies in digital media and Internet commerce for nearly a decade, heads the team. Zeisser created and oversaw Liberty Media’s eCommerce Group, a roll-up of specialty online retail companies where he worked closely with entrepreneurs and senior executives in growing the group’s annual revenues to $1.5 billion. Prior to Liberty Media, Zeisser was a partner in the Media and Private Equity practices of McKinsey & Co. Zeisser will assume the role of Chairman of US Investments for Alibaba Group.
“Alibaba is run by entrepreneurs, and we believe in supporting entrepreneurs with great vision and a strong sense of mission for their companies,” said Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of Alibaba and head of Alibaba’s strategic investments. “We are extremely excited to have someone of Michael’s caliber and experience to lead our investment efforts in the U.S. The team has been active over the past several months and we have already completed a few investments in the U.S. by partnering with terrific entrepreneurial teams.”

Three U.S. companies have recently announced that they received growth capital funding from Alibaba. They are Fanatics, the leading online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise; ShopRunner, a platform for top retailers providing free 2-day shipping to online shoppers; and Quixey, a leading developer of search technology that enables users to search for content within mobile apps.

Other members of Alibaba’s U.S. investment team include Peter Stern, a senior banker from the technology, media and telecoms M&A team at Credit Suisse in New York who advised Alibaba on the landmark $7.6 billion stock repurchase from Yahoo in 2012; and Danielle Wong, a Stanford undergraduate who recently received her MBA from the Yale School of Management. The team will be based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
About Alibaba Group:
Alibaba Group’s mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. Since it was founded in 1999, the China-based Alibaba Group has developed leading businesses in consumer e-commerce, online payment, business-to-business marketplaces and cloud computing. Alibaba Group operates Taobao Marketplace (www.taobao.com), China’s most popular online shopping destination; Tmall.com (www.tmall.com), China’s leading online platform for merchants offering quality, brand-name goods to consumers; Juhuasuan (www.juhuasuan.com), a group shopping platform; eTao (www.etao.com), a comprehensive shopping search engine; Alibaba.com (www.alibaba.com) and 1688.com (www.1688.com), leading business-to-business marketplaces for small businesses engaged in international trade and domestic China trade, respectively; and Alibaba Cloud Computing (www.aliyun.com), a developer of platforms for cloud computing and data management. Alipay (www.alipay.com), the most widely-used online payment service by consumers and merchants in China, is an affiliate of Alibaba Group.


imageRegarding Fanatics and ShopRunner here is: Self-Made Billionaire Michael Rubin: E-Commerce Is Rapidly Changing [Entrepreneur YouTube channel, Nov 27, 2013]

The owner of Rue La La, Fanatics and ShopRunner was bankrupt in his teens. But today, at 41, he is worth almost $3 billion. Find out more at: http://www.entrepreneur.com/video/230138 Related: Why This Company Wants You to Change Your Underwear http://www.entrepreneur.com/video/229810 Why Bitcoin’s Future Is Bright http://www.entrepreneur.com/video/228099

Score! Web Sports Retailer Fanatics Inc.Tops $3 Billion Valuation [The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2013]

One online retailer has quietly grown into one of America’s largest Web merchants by carving out a lucrative niche: sports apparel.
The company, Fanatics Inc., this week raised $170 million in a new funding round. That more than doubles the retailer’s valuation to $3.1 billion from just a year ago, according to a person familiar with the deal’s terms.
In an interview, Michael Rubin, chief executive of Fanatics’ parent company Kynetic LLC, said the retailer expects to pull in $1 billion in revenue this year, up from $800 million last year, through a focus on sales—primarily online—of officially licensed jerseys, mugs, jackets and other such merchandise. He said the company is profitable, without providing specifics, and he has no plans to take it public.

The new funding comes from Singapore state-owned investment company Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd., and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., said Mr. Rubin. Temasek gains a seat on the Jacksonville, Fla., company’s board, he said.
A spokesman for Temasek confirmed the investment, but declined to discuss specifics. An Alibaba representative declined comment.
Mr. Rubin said the money would, among other things, help Fanatics increase its $500 million inventory, fund an overseas expansion and bolster its distribution, including a planned new warehouse in the Western U.S. “We think there’s huge potential in sports apparel and for Fanatics to grow,” said Mr. Rubin. “We’ll be looking at Western Europe and Asia as places to move into.”

Fanatics adds 800 seasonal jobs for upcoming holiday season [USA01 YouTube channel, Oct 21, 2013]

Fanatics is the world’s largest online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise and they’re adding 800 seasonal jobs.

Sports E-Commerce Leader Fanatics Launches Mobile App for iPhone and Android [press release, Nov 13, 2013]

November 13, 2013 – JACKSONVILLE, FL – Fanatics, Inc. announces the launch of its first-ever mobile app for iPhone and Android devices. The leading online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise is continuing to ensure sports fans receive the best possible shopping experience, including easier access to the largest assortment of team gear on smartphones.
The new Fanatics app provides sports fans worldwide with mobile access to more than 250,000 products from over 700 teams. Users have the ability to browse through merchandise, save their favorite teams and find the best quality gear from all major leagues, including the NFL, NCAA, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA and UFC. App users also have access to the free Fanatics REWARDS program, which offers free 3-day shipping on everything plus 5% Fan Cash™ on orders over $50 and 10% Fan Cash™ on orders over $100.
“Launching the Fanatics mobile app is an exciting time for our company as we continue to expand our reach to sports fans,” said David Katz, SVP and GM of Mobile for Fanatics. “With Fanatics growing so quickly and sports over-indexing on mobile, it was crucial that we get a great, user-friendly commerce app for fan gear out to our users. And this is just the start since location information and real-time data will allow us to build on this start and create even better experiences for passionate fans.”
About Fanatics
Fanatics is a leading online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise and provides the ultimate shopping experience to sports fans. As a Top 50 Internet Retailer Company, Fanatics comprises the broadest online assortment offering hundreds of thousands of officially licensed items via its Fanatics (www.fanatics.com) and FansEdge (www.fansedge.com) brands. In addition, the company powers the e-commerce sites of all major professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA), major media brands (NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports) and e-stores for over 200 collegiate and professional team properties.

imageShopRunner Helping Retailers Boost Sales, CEO Says [ShopRunner YouTube channel, May 14, 2012]

June 20, 2012 (Bloomberg) — Michael Golden, president and chief executive officer of ShopRunner, talks about the company’s business strategy and services for retailers. He speaks with Cory Johnson on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West.” (Source: Bloomberg) Learn more about ShopRunner athttp://www.shoprunner.com

Alibaba Leads $206 Million Investment in ShopRunner [The Wall Street Journal, Oct 10, 2013]

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has led a $206 million investment in a rival to Amazon.com Inc., AMZN +1.38% one of its biggest U.S. moves as the Chinese e-commerce giant considers an initial public offering here.
Alibaba invested in ShopRunner Inc., which offers unlimited two-day shipping from retailers including Toys “R” Us Inc. and RadioShack Corp. RSH -2.62% for a $79 annual fee. American Express Co. AXP +1.27% has also taken a small stake in ShopRunner.
The deal values ShopRunner at about $600 million, said a person familiar with the matter, and completes a funding round in which Alibaba previously chipped in about $70 million. It isn’t clear exactly how much Alibaba invested, but it did put in most of the funding, this person said. As part of the deal, eBay Inc. EBAY +1.58% sold its prior 30% holding in ShopRunner for a profit, the person said.

Alibaba has had designs on the U.S. for years. It operates two U.S.-facing websites, traditional online marketplace Aliexpress.com and Alibaba.com, a business-to-business sales site. In 2010, it struck a deal to sell goods through eBay’s marketplace. In June, Alibaba took a minority stake in Fanatics Inc., also controlled by ShopRunner-parent Kynetic LLC, as part of $170 million funding round.

“The U.S. market in the long run is very interesting to us,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman and co-founder in an interview. “Coming into this market is about learning about American consumers and how the market operates.” Mr. Tsai said he expects ShopRunner to be competitive with Amazon over time. One analyst says that won’t be easy.

ShopRunner is headed by Scott Thompson, the former PayPal president who resigned as Yahoo’s chief executive last year after a flap over a flawed biography in a company regulatory filing.
Mr. Thompson, who joined ShopRunner in July, said the cash injection will help the company grow more quickly, including adding new retailers. “We’re staking out a place in mobile, hiring more engineers that will allow us to evolve our business,” Mr. Thompson said. He said the company is also hiring additional salespeople.
Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group Ltd. plans to join as soon as this month, said John Koryl, a division president. “Our customer wants to know she’ll get her item in two days,” he said. “This is a good experiment to see how it goes.”
The ShopRunner funding round marks another milestone for Kynetic CEO Michael Rubin, who sold e-commerce consultancy GSI Commerce to eBay in March 2011 for $2.4 billion; the unit is now called eBay Enterprise. The June round in which Alibaba participated valued Kynetic at $3 billion.
ShopRunner takes a 2% to 5% cut of goods purchased from merchants’ websites by members of the loyalty program, Mr. Thompson said. And it is one of few alternatives for merchants hoping to branch out into e-commerce while not relying too heavily on Amazon. The company doesn’t disclose revenue or profitability.
Earlier this year, the company announced a partnership with American Express giving many U.S. cardholders free memberships, a potential pool of tens of millions.

Scott Thompson, Ousted Yahoo CEO, Named New CEO of ShopRunner [FinancialNewsOnline, July 23, 2012]

From Fnno.com, this is the Financial News Network. While a lot of attention has been paid to Marissa Mayer being named the new CEO of Yahoo, it seems her predecessor has a new job as well. Scott Thompson, the previous CEO of Yahoo has been named the new CEO of ShopRunner.
ShopRunner is a subscription service that partners with over 60 online retailers. Customers pay a monthly fee, and are then able to reap the benefits of exclusive deals with certain retailers, and receive free shipping. Thompson was previously a board member for the company, as early as when he was the president of PayPal.
Thompson’s previous position at Yahoo lasted only four months after which he was forced to depart amid allegations he lied about his qualifications. ShopRunner’s current CEO, Mike Golden, will remain with the company as president. For more coverage and analysis of the business world follow us on Twitter @FNNOnline or check out our website at fnno.com


imageQuixey – Introducing the New Android App [quixey YouTube channel, Oct 22, 2013]

Quixey is the best place to find and discover apps on Android. Download it for free on Google Play here: http://bit.ly/1cVpC74 Learn more about the product at http://www.quixey.com/androidapp

Announcing Quixey on Android, a Better Way to Find Apps! [Quixey News, Oct 23, 2013]

Today we’re super excited to announce the launch of our first direct to consumer product, now available for free on Android — download it from Google Play right here and read about it on the product page!
Until now, most app search has been based on titles and keywords, which requires users to know the name of an app before they can search for it. With Quixey, all you have to do is describe what you want to do in natural language. For example, “tune my guitar” or “identify wines.”
Beyond that, we’ve included a bunch of fun and engaging new features. Whether you know what kind of app you want, or just have a minute to find something new, there’s something for everyone. Here’s what Quixey on Android offers:
  • Search – App search that works. You don’t need to know an app’s name to get great results. Search for apps by describing what you want to do and we’ll find apps to help.
  • Trending – Check out the latest and greatest apps. No matter who you are – parent, student, teacher, traveler, athlete, gamer, musician – we have the top trending apps picked for you.
  • Browse – Browse through categories and subcategories. Take our browse wheel for a spin to find the perfect app for you (not available on Gingerbread OS).
  • Sample – Curious what types of apps are out there? Check out our sample queries to see what other people are searching for.
Quixey is in beta and we’re committed to building an amazing product that you love. Submit your feedback from within the app (in the information section) or send an email to androidapp@quixey.com. Thanks and have fun finding great new apps!

[Tech Talk Video] The Functional Web: The Future of Apps and the Web [quixey YouTube channel, March 4, 2013]

CTO Liron Shapira gives a talk about the future of apps and the Functional Web at Box HQ in Los Altos on Feb 27, 2013.

The Functional Web is also explained by him in this Quixey blog post of March 7, 2013.

Quixey Secures $50M in Series C Funding Led by Alibaba Group [Quixey News, Oct 3, 2013]

Today we’re thrilled to announce we’ve officially closed our latest round of funding! Series C is led by Alibaba Group, with new investor GGV Capital, and participation from existing investors Atlantic Bridge, Innovation Endeavors, Translink Capital, US Venture Partners, and WI Harper.
“Next year, 95% of the world’s population will have mobile access, and by 2016 people will use 1.5 billion smart mobile devices. Quixey is at the epicenter of this brave new world, and this investment will ensure that we continue to expand globally,” said Tomer Kagan, Quixey CEO and Co-Founder. “Apps have moved from novelty to a major factor in purchasing decisions for consumers and we’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what they can do.”
We’re very excited to be working with a company on the level of Alibaba, whose mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. Since its inception, it has developed leading businesses in consumer e-commerce, online payment, business-to-business marketplaces and cloud computing, reaching Internet users in more than 240 countries and regions.

Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman at Alibaba, is equally as excited to be working with us. As he says, “Innovation is at the heart of Alibaba’s culture, so backing entrepreneurs who are developing forward-thinking technology is what we love to do. Quixey has a great vision for the future and a fantastic team to see it through.”

The additional $50 million, which brings our funding total to $74.2 million, will be used to further develop our market leading Functional Search™ technology, which currently allows users to find apps by describing what they want to do. With the flexibility to bolster our already strong roster of talented employees, we’ll now be able to focus on going deeper and deeper into apps, bringing users the information and functionality they want quicker than ever before.
“Building user-centric products is what Quixey is about. We should be the starting point for every mobile device,” said Guru Gowrappan, EVP, Product and Marketing at Quixey. “We give users a more natural way to search for the things that makes their lives easier. That’s the core of our Functional Search™ technology and the core of the company.”
Ever since launching in 2011, we’ve been working hard to bring the build the best possible product for our users. This is a huge benchmark for us as it allows us to make our vision for the future of apps and the web a reality much faster than originally possible. If you have any questions about the funding round, please send us a note at press@quixey.com. Look out for more big announcements in the coming months!


imageAlipay service gains rising popularity [CCTVcomInternational, July 17, 2013]

Alipay’s Yu E Bao, an online payment platform in China, is rapidly gaining popularity amongst online retailers and shoppers.

China’s answer to PayPal expands into the U.S. [Internet Retailer, Sept 27, 2013]

Three hundred million Chinese consumers shop online, and most of them have accounts with Alipay, the PayPal-like online payment service owned by Alibaba Group Ltd., operator of China’s top online marketplaces. In a move that could make it easier for Chinese shoppers to buy on U.S. e-commerce sites, Alipay is now promoting itself as a payment option for U.S. e-retailers.
imageAmong the U.S. online retailers that’s begun accepting Alipay this year is iHerb Inc., No. 204 in the Internet Retailer. In the first six months of accepting the Chinese payment method, iHerb’s sales on the cn.iHerb.com subdomain of its web site aimed at Chinese consumers increased 244.52% compared with the prior six-month period and 684.15% compared with the same period a year earlier, says John McCarthy, director of marketing at iHerb.
Leading Alipay’s international expansion is Jingming Li, whose title is chief architect and acting president of the newly formed Alibaba International Financial Service Unit. Based at Alibaba’s U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, CA, Li sees a big opportunity in enabling Chinese shoppers to pay with a method that they use widely in China, not only to shop online but also to pay utility and other bills offline in China.
Li notes that China’s increasingly affluent middle- and upper-class consumers made 83 million trips abroad last year [in 2012] and spent $100 billion while traveling. In addition, he says, they spent 20 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) buying directly from e-commerce sites outside of China. They’re especially interested in buying baby products, apparel and luxury goods.
They would buy more, Alibaba reasons, if they could pay with the Alipay accounts they use in China. “That’s where our international focus will be, helping our members continue to use their Alipay accounts outside of China,” he says.
imageWithout disclosing the total number of U.S. sites accepting Alipay, Li says there are about 10 web sites in the U.S. that already are generating more than 100 Alipay transactions per day. They include the e-commerce sites of retailers Gap Inc. Direct, No. 19 in the 2013 Top 500, and Forever 21, No. 353; travel site Travelzoo; web domain registrar GoDaddy and peerTransfer, which handles tuition payments for international students.
International web sites can boost sales by accepting Alipay because many Chinese consumers don’t have credit cards from Western brands like Visa and MasterCard, Li says. Plus, he says, “They are in the habit of using Alipay. If a merchant is willing to use Alipay as a form of payment it gives a lot more trust and confidence to the consumer who may be purchasing an airline ticket from a foreign carrier for the first time.”
Li would not disclose Alipay’s fees, but says they are lower than the fees charged by major credit card brands like MasterCard and Visa. Chinese consumers typically fund their Alipay accounts from their bank accounts, which eliminates much of the risk that credit card issuers take on when they extend credit to cardholders. McCarthy of iHerb says the fees he pays are comparable to what he pays for other payment methods, and that he views the fees as “attractive.”

Chinese consumers & global travel [BizAsiaAmerica YouTube channel, Nov 20, 2013]

Li Jingming, Vice President of Alipay International appears on CCTV to discuss Alipay’s potential global expansion.

Alibaba restructures Alipay’s parent, Jack Ma’s share reduced [Reuters, Nov 1, 2013]

The online payment affiliate of China’s biggest e-commerce company Alibaba Group Ltd will be restructured to attract new strategic investors, in a move that will reduce the shareholding of Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma in the affiliate.
Zhejiang Alibaba E-Commerce Co Ltd will be restructured as a new company in which 60 percent of its shares will be offered to new strategic investors, Lucy Peng, head of the restructured entity, said in a letter published on its official Weibo microblog account on Friday.
Ma will see his shareholding reduced from 80 percent to about 7 percent in the new company, or no greater than his shareholding in Alibaba Group, according to the letter.
The restructured company, to be known as Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group, will hold Zhejiang Alibaba’s 100 percent stake in unit Alipay, as well as its shareholding in Alibaba’s micro-finance unit, Zhongan Insurance, and Tianhong Asset Management Co.
Alipay is China’s biggest third-party payment platform, providing payment solutions to 460,000 merchants, and with 800 million registered accounts.
The remaining 40 percent in the new company will be offered to nearly 24,000 employees at Alibaba Group and Zhejiang Alibaba, said Peng, former chief executive of Alipay. That includes the share held by Ma.
The announcement on Friday will have no impact on existing agreements with Alibaba and the group’s shareholders SoftBank Corp and Yahoo! Inc, Alibaba spokesman John Spelich said.
In 2011, Ma sparked a public dispute with Alibaba Group’s biggest outside investors when he separated Alipay from Alibaba. Ma said at the time that new Chinese government regulations on third-party payment services required the changes.
The companies later settled, in a deal that guaranteed Alibaba 49.9 percent of Alipay’s earnings prior to an initial public offering, and as much as $6 billion if Alipay sells shares to the public.
“Today’s announcement underscores that employees of both Alibaba Group Holdings and Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group are being incentivized to work hard to achieve success for the company,” Spelich said.
Alibaba Group, through Alipay, is introducing a variety of financial services to complement its e-commerce businesses. Besides Alipay, which provides users with an online payment system, the Hangzhou-based company has also started fund and insurance sales, as well as small loan finance.
In June, Alipay launched Yu E Bao, a fund management platform, allowing Alibaba customers to directly invest cash from their Alipay account into a money market fund managed by Tianhong Asset Management Co.
The Zenglibao fund is the most successful fundraising by any mutual fund in China this year, with managed assets reaching 55.7 billion yuan ($9.14 billion) at the end of September.
Alibaba also received approval this week from China’s securities regulators to act as a third party for the online sale of fund products on its Amazon-like Taobao.

China’s Alipay teams with U.S. network [BizAsiaAmerica YouTube channel, Nov 20, 2013]

Mark Niu reports on how Alipay is making it easier for Chinese to book flights and hotels online by partnering with the U.S. company UATP. Subscribe to BizAsiaAmerica: http://goo.gl/FMKaBj Follow CCTV America: Twitter: http://bit.ly/15oqHSy Facebook: http://on.fb.me/172VKne

UATP and Alipay Unite to Help the U.S. Travel Industry Tap into the World’s Top-Spending Travel Market [press release, Nov 5, 2013]

imageAirline and Travel Payment Summit,  Chicago,November 5, 2013  – UATP announced today that it has entered into a strategic partnership with Alipay, China’s leading third-party online payment solution, to enable the U.S. travel industry to offer Chinese consumers a convenient and trusted way to book and pay for overseas travel.
With minimal change to their existing backend systems, airlines, hotels and other travel enterprises can now easily connect to the more than 800 million Chinese account holders on the Alipay platform via the UATP Network. These consumers are extremely comfortable with online purchasing and enthusiastic about high-quality international products and overseas travel.
China’s increasingly affluent middle- and upper-class consumers made 83 million outbound trips in 2012. China has been the world’s fastest-growing tourism source market for the past decade and it is now also the world’s top tourism spender. Chinese travelers spent a record US$102 billion in 2012 to surpass the U.S. and Germany, both with spending close to $84 billion.
“After years as the most widely used online payment platform in China, Alipay is thrilled to join forces with UATP in this milestone collaboration. We are excited to help U.S. businesses satisfy eager Chinese consumers,” said Jingming Li, vice president and chief architect of Alipay International. “Alipay is dedicated to meeting the needs of China’s vast and growing pool of keen overseas travelers by making it easier for them to pay for air tickets, book hotels, rent cars and make other travel-related purchases online from the world’s leading airlines and accredited travel agencies.”
“We look forward to partnering with Alipay and working with them in this mutually beneficial opportunity,” said Ralph Kaiser, president and CEO, UATP. “We see further growth in outbound travel as inevitable for China. Matching the strength of the UATP Network with Alipay’s proven success, we are confident that we can bring the best that both companies have to offer to this booming market.”
Launched in 2004, Alipay is a cross-border payment solution that provides an easy and secure platform to make and receive payment over the Internet. Alipay partners with more than 180 financial institutions and supports transactions in 15 foreign currencies. It had more than 800 million registered accounts as of December 2012.
UATP is a comprehensive payment solution that airlines offer to reduce the high cost of credit card use and provide vital data for accurate travel management. UATP’s corporate program and data tools, DataStream and DataMine, supply Level III Data for all air and rail travel, and folio-level data for hotel stays.
For more information, visit http://uatp.com and http://global.alipay.com

No wonder that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson are now courting Jack Ma as evidenced by the recent Alibaba Gets a British Touch [BizAsiaAmerica YouTube channel, Dec 26, 2013] video report:

Richard Bestic reports from London where UK brands are set to be promoted on China’s T-Mall.

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