Alibaba Strikes Partnership With Consumer Goods Giant Unilever

In another nod to the importance of cross-border e-commerce to its business strategy, Alibaba announced a strategic partnership with consumer goods giant Unilever today.

Unilever has operated an online store on Alibaba’s B2C platform Tmall for five years, but the new agreement means more distribution channels, especially for rural areas; the use of Alibaba’s data analytics to identify online-to-offline (O2O) retail opportunities for Unilever; and improved supply chains. The British-Dutch consumer goods company’s biggest brands include Axe, Ben and Jerry’s, Dove, Lipston, and Hellmann’s.

All Unilever items sold through Alibaba’s channels will include a QR code connected to Alibaba’s Blue Star program, which is meant to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods. This is a potential selling point for many consumers in China, where food and product safety scandals have prompted demand for goods manufactured in other countries.

Alibaba’s other recent cross-border e-commerce initiatives, most of which are designed to bring foreign brands to consumers in China, include a strategic investment in, a flash sales site, and an increased stake in Singapore Post Limited to grow its international logistics network.

Cross-border e-commerce allows Alibaba to expand internationally without opening consumer sites in countries where there are already well-entrenched competitors, like Amazon. Its attempts to open e-commerce businesses in other countries have not borne much fruit so far. For example, 11Main, its U.S. marketplace, recently ceased as a standalone business.

By striking deals like its partnership with Unilever, however, Alibaba’s importance to global companies becomes increasingly important, as they rely on the company’s platforms and logistics network to take advantage of growth in China.