Alibaba is an online global trading marketplace founded in 1999 in China – and has some useful applications for competitive intelligence. They offer a sales platform for manufacturers, suppliers, exporters, and importers all over the world. The site offers trade updates, “hot” regions for trade, and allows companies to find suppliers and manufacturers for their products.
The site is simple to use, and it is free to join. The home page hosts a straightforward search engine that allows the inquirer to search for products, suppliers, and buyers individually (there is seemingly no way to search for all three at the same time, however). If the inquirer is not interested in searching for a specific product, supplier, or buyer, he or she can simply use the drop-down boxes on the left of the page. The information there is organized into broad categories, such as Shoes & Accessories, Hardware, Rubber & Plastics, and the like. Another way to use the site is to visit the forums, which offer topics such as what the hot products selling in India are currently. Information gathering can be useful through these forums, as any user of the site is invited to participate.
Being supplier-centric, Alibaba is a useful resource when trying to understand a supply chain, or other aspects of import/export activity. The major advantage to using Alibaba for competitive intelligence is the transparency of the site – businesses post everything from pricing information to materials available; and contact information for suppliers can be readily accessed.
The organization of the site does take some time to understand as it is quite messy, but the information potentially available makes the effort worthwhile.
Overall, Alibaba is a useful website that has a great deal of information about suppliers and import/export markets.