China’s Alibaba Group is gearing up for what could be the world’s biggest ever tech IPO, so it’s probably about time you discovered what the company is all about.

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, who is now said to be worth more than $12bn. He served as chairman and CEO until May 2013 but stepped down to follow other business interests.

And to give an idea of the scale of the business, I’ve rounded up a load of stats that show why the world is so excited about its upcoming IPO.

For more information on this topic, read my blog post looking at 25 stats that show the scale of the ecommerce market in China

Shareholders

Alibaba has several major shareholders, of which Softbank is the largest with 34.4% of the company.

Yahoo is the second-largest with 22.6%, while Jack Ma owns 8.9%.

Third-party marketplaces

Alibaba has grown to become the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company despite never engaging in direct sales. Instead it operates a number of hugely successful third-party marketplaces.

  • Taobao is a C2C marketplace that has become China’s largest online shopping destination. It operates a similar business model to eBay.
  • Tmall is a B2C marketplace that attracts many of the world’s largest brands and retailers. You can read more about Tmall in my post looking at why it’s so popular among Western brands.
  • Juhuasuan is China’s largest group-buying marketplace in terms of monthly active users. It hosts flash sales similar to Groupon. 
  • Alibaba.com is the world’s largest online B2B trading platform for small businesses. The English language site handles sales between importers and exporters from more than 240 countries.
  • 1688.com enables domestic B2B trade. By the end of 2013 the site was processing around 300m Yuan ($49.1m) in transactions every day, a ten-fold increase since March 2013.

Burberry’s Tmall store

Alipay

Alipay is Alibaba’s third-party online payment platform. By the end of 2013 it had 300m registered users who spent $519bn through the platform that year compared to $180bn for PayPal.

AliPay accounts for roughly half of China’s online payment market.

Active users and sales for 2013

Documents filed with the SEC ahead of Alibaba’s IPO revealed the massive scale of the companies operations:

  • It has 231m annual active buyers.
  • 11.3bn orders went through Alibaba’s platforms in 2013.
  • Active buyers make 49 purchases per year on average.
  • The total gross merchandise volume (GMV) of its three main Chinese consumer retail marketplaces is $248bn.
  • For the nine-month period ending 31 December 2013, Alibaba made $6.5bn in revenue with a net income of $2.9bn.
  • Of this total, China commerce revenue was 35.17bn Yuan ($5.66bn), representing 86.9% of revenue. The rest of its revenue came from international sales through Alibaba.com and cloud computing services.

Mobile users and sales

Also included in the SEC filing were details of the company’s mobile users and sales figures:

  • In December 2013 Alibaba had 136m monthly active users on mobile.
  • Alibaba’s mobile GMV in 2013 was $37bn, which equates to 19.7% of its total GMV (up 7.4% year-on-year).
  • The company accounted for 76.2% of total mobile retail GMV in China last year.

Online advertising

According to Enfodesk, Alibaba accounted for 17.3% of online advertising marketshare in Q1 2014.

Alibaba sells advertising on its marketplaces, such as search ads on Taobao and Tmall.

But its revenue was dwarfed by Baidu’s marketshare, with the search engine hoovering up around a third (32.2%) of online advertising revenue. Google China’s decline continued, with the company coming in third with 5.2%.

Singles’ Day

Singles’ Day, which falls on November 11, is described as the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day.

However it also shares elements of Black Friday, as retailers use it as an excuse for hosting massive sales online and in-store.

In 2013 sales through Taobao and Tmall topped 35bn Yuan ($5.75bn) on Singles’ Day, easily surpassing the previous year’s total of 19.1bn Yuan.

In total the company processed 254m orders through its cloud computing platform in a single day.

In comparison, comScore stated that US consumers spent $1.7bn online on Cyber Monday and $1bn on Black Friday in 2013, though this only includes desktop sales.