Happy International Women’s Day!
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Maggie Liu, General Manager, Tmall Global. For today, we wanted to celebrate women who managed to climb to leadership positions in companies redefining the retail landscape.
SEE ALSO : EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Tmall VP, Liu Bo
RiA: This month we are celebrating women part of redefining the retail landscape. Could you please walk us through your journey at Alibaba Group?
Maggie: I joined Alibaba’s B2C platform Tmall at the end of 2012, when the platform was just going under the change from Taobao Mall to Tmall. At first, I looked after our key clients in the marketing department. Since Tmall was just starting out, it had yet to recruit big international names and so a large part of my responsibility was to introduce Tmall to those leading brands and convince them to collaborate with us.
After that, I was transferred to Tmall FMCG till 2015 to oversee the marketing operations of the business. During my time in the FMCG department, I witnessed the business unit record over RMB10 billion in GMV for the first time during Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. At the beginning of 2016, I joined Tmall Global, the dedicated cross-border B2C marketplace of Alibaba Group. Back then, it was only a small business team of around 10 people and I was in charge of international procurement. And most recently, since 2020, I have been overseeing the entire business of Tmall Global.
Over the years working at Alibaba, I have often been inspired by female leaders in our organization. In fact, approximately one third of the Partners at Alibaba are women. I genuinely feel that we are supported to succeed because it is not about getting the numbers but giving women important roles. The company provides us with training in a range of areas such as learning about Alibaba’s culture, management, strategic thinking, product knowledge and international business, all of which I think have contributed to my development and growth.
RiA: What are the characteristics of a great leader and what would you suggest to the next generations of talents?
Maggie: When I joined Alibaba, I learnt how to be an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurial leadership pushes people to be better versions of who they are, empowering them to thrive.
Being a leader has nothing to do with gender. I want our young talents to live a life filled with hope and passion. My advice is to be curious, energetic and fearless. Work can be very competitive, so it is important to be brave and always look ahead.
RiA: Who is your source of inspiration?
Maggie: I think the core of my inspiration comes from the company’s culture, which is quite unique. At Alibaba, we are a caring and passionate bunch working together for a meaningful cause. We really have stronger intrinsic motivations to create value and fulfil responsibilities.
For example, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of last year, the one to step up and lead the response was a female partner at Alibaba took charge in coordinating and procuring pandemic-related supplies for the frontline. At the time I was leading the global procurement for Tmall Global, so we had the chance to work with each other. Although we had never worked directly together before, this particular partner was extremely open-minded and willing to understand and support others. I really appreciate the commitment people give and the trust we put in each other during challenging times.
Another company initiative that I am very proud of is Ali Day, which is held every year on 10th May. On this occasion we open the campuses around the globe to the families of our employees. We also host a series of activities to acknowledge the dedication of each Alibaba staff or “Aliren” and the support from our families and inspire our employees to work toward our greater cause. I think there is a strong connection between Alibaba and the families of our employees and you can see that there is so much strength and synergy among us.
RiA: You are currently in charge of Tmall Global, what are the most exciting
aspects of your job and what are the challenges?
Maggie: I believe that there are a lot of exciting developments happening on Tmall Global, as the platform provides solutions for overseas merchants to expand their businesses into China. We can see that Tmall Global has been leading global trends in product innovation, branding strategies and driving the development of new product categories. And it is really exciting to see that Tmall Global has become a major catalyst in helping overseas merchants enter the China market.
At Alibaba, our mission is to make it easy for everyone to do business anywhere. From the perspective of cross-border e-commerce, we want to make this happen for global merchants as well. In fact, a lot of overseas merchants have never been to China, nor are they familiar with the Internet ecosystem here. For example, many wineries in France are family-owned businesses which have been operating through generations and rely heavily on off-line sales. Tmall Global provides them a one-stop cross-border e-commerce solution and an easy access to the China market. My job allows me to better understand the business environment and operational traditions of our overseas merchants. It is important to break down the barriers and help them learn more about the Chinese market in return.
I believe challenges always come with opportunities. We have been thinking about China’s import business and how that may look in the next one to three years and how we can further showcase our commercial capabilities.
Since the pandemic has limited the movement of people going across borders, we have responded by changing the way we collaborate with overseas merchants. In January, our global business recruitment team organized the first virtual summit for global merchants who want to enter the China market. Meanwhile, we are also thinking about how to maintain regular communications with merchants when travel is restricted, and how to gain new merchants’ trust when we cannot meet them in person.
RiA: We have seen your company growing very fast in the past few years thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the people behind it. Where do you see it going in the future?
Maggie: Even though China’s outbound tourism has not yet recovered, consumer demand for imported products continues to increase. We are looking at ways to upgrade our operations for import businesses and help overseas merchants expand their business into China in a more efficient way. We see the next one to three years as a new growth cycle for Tmall Global.
RiA: Talking about the engagement of international brands, your platforms have been helping more and more brands to tap into the China market through cross-border e-commerce. How do you see them working with the solutions provided by Tmall Global to meet Chinese consumers’ increasing demand for import goods?
Maggie: Taking live-streaming e-commerce as an example, brands could easily operate livestreaming on their Flagship stores on our platform and leverage online influencers to expand their engagement with Chinese consumers. The interactive channel of live commerce and customer trust in influencers can help drive transactions. Currently, Tmall Global has set up official livestreaming venues in Hangzhou, Chengdu and Changchun where more than 1,000 overseas brands have begun participating in the livestreaming sessions.
International brands have also participated Tmall Global’s influencer incubator scheme, which utilizes the rich content and the influencer store ecosystem to connect international brands with Chinese customers by helping overseas celebrities and social media influencers to open stores on Tmall Global. For example, Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty chose to debut on our Tmall Global platform because of its popularity among young Chinese consumers. Rihanna also appeared on the Fenty Beauty flagship store’s Taobao Live for the first time, directly introducing new products to Chinese consumers.
RiA: As the consumption upgrading has boosted demand for imported goods, how do you see the opportunity for overseas brands, especially niche brands, to enter China?
Maggie: Three years ago, maternity and baby category ranked the top position in terms of sales on Tmall Global. The demand for quality baby formula and comfortable diapers drove the business growth. At that time, a lot of parents sourced the products through overseas buying agents. Then we established connections with European dairy product manufacturers and built up the supply chain, satisfying the needs of our customers who are parents to young children.
Over the last one to two years, the top category has shifted to beauty and health products. Functional products such as sunscreen, spot and acne removers, and ampoule essence are in great demand. This is probably due to the overall higher quality of life and increased spending power of Chinese consumers. In the past, many women only applied sunscreen when they visited the beach, but now products that can screen sunlight, light pollution, radiation and blue light have become daily essentials. To address these new customer demands, we established overseas supply chains for the new categories or products in need.
Consumer behavior and preferences are constantly evolving. For example, our female consumers born between 1990 and 1999 have been buying more pet products. This is now one the fastest growing category on our platform. Single and young women tend to spoil their pets, giving rise to new product categories such as treadmills for pets and beer for cats.
Beauty devices are evolving too, the new generation of beauty devices include radio frequency, plus many other functions. Customers are not only buying facial beauty devices but also helmets that prevent hair loss. Serums are not only for the face either, but also for the scalp. Interestingly, male customers are buying more skincare products now than ever before.
RiA: You are a mother yourself, could you tell us more about your personal
preference for imported products?
Maggie: I was among the first group of parents who bought imported products through overseas buying agents. My son is eight years old now and Tmall has been established for seven years. From buying baby formula and diapers in the early years, I now buy more daily-use products for the family, such as wine, beauty devices and skincare products. During the pandemic, I also bought a lot of small electronic appliances and games.
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RiA: As a career woman, what tips would you give on work life balance?
Maggie: My first tip is to learn how to prioritize tasks at work and take time to look after yourself. I always ensure that I have “me time” every week to visit the spa for treatment and practice yoga and have fun with friends. But more importantly, to be present in my son’s life making sure not to miss daily moments with him.