What is Alibaba and why should we care?

So what’s Alibaba?

Alibaba (not to be confused with the guy from the Arabian Nights tales) is widely known as ‘China’s answer to eBay’, but many say it’s actually more like someone rolled eBay, Amazon and Google together into one massive superpower.

The thing is it’s got the potential to be even better AND more successful than them all, as it’s actually already the biggest e-commerce business in the whole world. Impressive, right?

Who set it up?

Well, the Alibaba Group actually owns three different web properties, including Taobao, Tmall and Alibaba.com. According to sources today, the combined effort of these three e-commerce platforms saw more than $248bn in transactions over the past year. To give you a bit of perspective, that’s more than what eBay AND Amazon made over the same time.

The guy behind it all is the enigmatic Jack Ma and he actually set up Alibaba.com back in 1999, which is why you may have come across it before. It’s been around a while.

It’s also worth mentioning Yahoo has a stake in Alibaba too and will obviously be set to make a LOT of cash regardless of what happens today.

How does it make so much money?

Although Alibaba is often compared to eBay, its sites operate in a different way. Rather than pay to list items, users pay Alibaba to make their listings stand out with the help of ads and other additions.

Why is everyone talking about it today?

Well today (Friday 19th September) the team behind Alibaba is finally taking it public and floating its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. Everyone from investors to tech enthusiasts and retail industry commentators are getting super excited about it. Initial estimations are suggesting that it could raise more than $25 billion, making it the highest public IPO ever.

The Guardian is running a pretty comprehensive live blog of all the news, so head on over if you’re keen to learn more as the trading begins later today.

Becca Caddy