Alibaba at the early stage
Founded in 1999, with a mission to make it easy to do business anywhere by leveraging innovation and technology, Alibaba created an online B2B marketplace platform (Alibaba.com and 1688.com) to match Chinese suppliers with businesses and later expanded its services to C2C and B2C via Taobao.com and T-mall.com, which are now two biggest e-commerce websites in the world. 
Exhibit 1: Alibaba’s Platforms 
The Use of AI
Alibaba’s principle of “Customer-First”  has allowed the company to focus on understanding customer’s behavior, identifying their latent needs and create value for them. Alibaba has put AI at the center of its e-commerce operations, helping to extract customer insights and enhance their customer journey, while empowering merchants to operate efficiently . Alibaba platform’s key features are as follows:
- Prediction for Personalization : Common pain point during the pre-purchase process for consumers is “Overloaded Information”, which complicate customers’ decision process. Alibaba’s smart product search and recommendation algorithm (“E-commerce brain”) use customers’ browsing data to predict consumer’s shopping preference, suggesting relevant product based on their interests to resolve the pain point. For merchants, the algorithm also suggests product assortment, recommendations, pricing strategy, and inventory management enhance merchant’s performance on the website
- Accessible Customer Services: One of the issues on online shopping experiences was access to customer services. Alibaba has developed “AliMe” , a 24/7 chat bot for customer support, which now serves over millions of customer queries per day. AliMe understands more than 90% of customer inquiries and has significantly improved merchant’s effectiveness, cutting half of the merchant’s time on answering chats and spending more time to boost sales. 
Exhibit 2: Example of Alibaba’s AI-powered Chatbot in different languages 
- Automated fulfillment operation: Fast and reliable delivery are top of mind concerns for online shoppers. 700 robots at Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics arm, are processing orders from load to unload, running by zero employees. The process is so efficient to allow delivery without 72 hours.  In term of delivery, Alibaba also used drones for some deliveries. Meanwhile, the company is also testing a delivery driverless vehicle (G Plus) with a built-in navigation system that relies on LIDAR to create a 3Dmap. Alibaba expects the G Plus will begin commercial production by the end of this year .
Exhibit 3: G Plus, Alibaba’s Deliver Driverless Vehicle 
According to Jack Ma “Large-scale computing and data are the father and mother of AI.”  AI at Alibaba is, therefore, very effective as the company has unlimited capital to invest in large-scale computing, supporting with huge sets of transaction data from the platforms.
Alibaba’s next move:
Alibaba’s next step is to sustain existing value and expand globally. The company has the ambitious target of creating 100 million jobs, supporting 10 million profitable businesses and serving 2 billion consumers across the world – one-third of the global population – in the next 20 years . I agree with Alibaba’s strategy to enter offline retail as it embraces more opportunities to pursue the company’s mission, creating more spaces for SMEs to grow. Alibaba will continue to thrive by leveraging data and AI as its competitive advantage over typical brick and mortar store.
In this next move, I would recommend Alibaba to continue their investment in AI for omnichannel retail experiences, yet what is more important is to also invest in AI talent management. As AI becomes increasingly beneficial to every industry, the world is now facing AI talents shortage . According to Exhibit 4, Alibaba is not yet among the top companies, investing in AI talent. To succeed in the long run, AI talents will be keys to advance innovations. Alibaba should start to invest in people from now on – attracting, developing and retaining AI talents.
Nevertheless, this becomes a challenging mission as the employment market is very competitive among giant tech firms. In this case, what are possible solutions for Alibaba to attract AI talents to sustain its omnichannel mission?
Exhibit 4: Global AI Talent Pool Heat Map 
Exhibit 5: Top 20 Companies investing in AI Talent 
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