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Alibaba has kicked off its Taobao Maker festival. Photo: Handout

Alibaba seeks to woo China’s young entrepreneurs with Taobao Maker festival as economic headwinds and competition mounts

  • The seventh Taobao Maker Festival started in the Chinese city of Guangzhou on Thursday
  • Event takes place as e-commerce giant continues to battle economic headwinds and increased competition from the likes of Douyin

Alibaba Group Holding has kicked off a big offline event to connect with small Chinese consumer brands and young entrepreneurs as the e-commerce giant continues to battle economic headwinds and increased competition in the country.

The seventh Taobao Maker Festival started in the Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday and is expected to last until the end of August, aimed at giving existing and potential shop owners on Alibaba’s online shopping platform Taobao Marketplace an avenue to showcase their ideas and share success tips.

The festival was started in 2016 as a marketing event to impress consumers but it has gained more importance for Alibaba in recent times as competition mounts from the likes of ByteDance-owned short video app Douyin, which uses its popular platform to gain eyeballs and lure merchants. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

At the event in Guangzhou, a selection of Taobao shops including a smart table-tennis gear seller and a fashion label run by rural women, took the stage to share their Taobao experiences and aspirations.

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“A common thing about building start-ups is that founders will definitely encounter big challenges that make them feel that they can’t live anymore,” said Trudy Dai Shan, one of the founding members of Alibaba and president of core domestic e-commerce at Alibaba. “Many people asked me if it’s a hard [job] after I took over Greater Taobao in January. I said it’s hard … but I just keep going and meet clients.”

China’s consumer spending has significantly weakened amid the country’s draconian Covid-19 controls and high youth unemployment. Retail sales, a rough measure of consumption, shrank 0.2 per cent in the first seven months of 2022, while one in every five Chinese youths aged between 16 and 24 is jobless.

Meanwhile Alibaba, which paid a US$2.8 billion antitrust fine a year ago after being found to be in violation of China’s antitrust laws, reported a 50 per cent fall in net income for the June quarter while sales came in flat at 205.56 billion yuan (US$29.95 billion).

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At the event Wei Xiaohua, vice-president of China Resources Mixc Lifestyle, a shopping mall chain, said shopping malls in China – many of which were forced to close to comply with Covid-19 controls – are facing huge challenges.

Xia Heng, co-founder of electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors, said it is important to stay alive amid a particularly challenging time. Xia recalled the hard days in 2019 when no start-up was able to raise fresh funds and Xpeng survived the cycle. The carmaker is backed by Alibaba and smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.

In retrospect, Xia said it is important to “embrace difficulties and setbacks, and see it as the nutrition of our growing-up process”.