July 12, 2024

Top 6 Customer Pain Points on Alibaba.com

Top 6 Customer Pain Points on Alibaba.com

In this article, we explore 6 significant pain points that users experience on Alibaba. These issues not only impact the user experience but could also pose serious bottlenecks for Alibaba’s business model. We will delve into each pain point, discuss its implications, and propose potential solutions that could enhance both user satisfaction and operational efficiency.

High Competition Among Sellers on Alibaba
Identical Product — Product A
Identical Product — Product B

Alibaba’s marketplace is characterized by intense competition among sellers, a situation that is often exemplified by many using the same product images (see example above). This practice may be intentionally allowed to encourage competitive pricing. However, this strategy introduces several challenges for buyers who need to consider factors beyond just the price. When multiple sellers use identical images, it becomes challenging for buyers to assess whether all products offer the same quality. This ambiguity can make it difficult to determine which product is superior. Additionally, sellers often promise specific lead times, such as 14 days, but buyers may question the reliability of these timelines. Moreover, while some suppliers charge more but are verified, potentially justifying their higher prices, others may offer lower prices for smaller order quantities, appealing to budget-conscious buyers.

To address these issues, Alibaba should implement a system to standardize the information provided by different suppliers. This system would enable a feature that allows buyers to compare products side by side, enhancing decision-making based on accurate and comparable data. Furthermore, Alibaba should develop filters to remove suppliers that offer both high prices and low quality, thus reducing noise in the marketplace. Although Alibaba benefits from a larger number of sellers due to increased profitability, it is crucial to balance this with the quality offered to maintain a reputable community.

Introducing a paid membership option to buyers could allow buyers to filter out low-quality sellers. This premium feature would not only improve the buying experience but also serve as a signal to sellers about the importance of maintaining or improving quality and pricing competitively. While some low-quality sellers may churn as a result, the overall community quality would improve, potentially offsetting any loss in seller numbers with gains from a more satisfied buyer base.

Growth Bottleneck with SMBs
Jack Ma danced in the style of Michael Jackson

Alibaba’s strategic focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) represents a significant pivot from its previous emphasis on larger suppliers. This shift was inspired by Jack Ma’s vision articulated in a documentary, where he emphasized that “Alibaba should make starting any business easy anywhere in the world.” This bold move initially allowed Alibaba to break even for the first time, demonstrating its immediate impact.

The advantages of this strategic realignment are evident. It has brought together a vast network of small to medium factories in China with SMBs globally, increasing the number of seller subscribers significantly. This approach not only enhances revenue potentials — which now exceed those from larger, more consistent big sellers — but also taps into the broader, albeit less predictable and higher-risk, B2C market.

However, this strategy also presents challenges. Alibaba has traditionally functioned more like an advertising platform, facilitating introductions between sellers and SMBs. Often, these relationships evolve beyond the platform, with transactions continuing offline where Alibaba does not directly profit. This results in a substantial loss of potential revenue as the platform doesn’t benefit from the ongoing transactions between these parties.

To mitigate this revenue leakage and maximize its growth potential with SMBs, Alibaba should consider implementing additional features that encourage buyers to remain engaged on the platform. By enhancing its suite of tools and services to better support and integrate with SMB operations (such as a PLM system), Alibaba can foster longer-term relationships and secure a more stable revenue stream. This approach would not only support Alibaba’s growth alongside emerging SMBs but also reinforce its position as an indispensable partner in the global B2B marketplace.

Lead-to-customer conversion rate

The search engine of Alibaba.com, particularly its English version, exhibits significant limitations. For instance, consider a search for “pink floral dress.” Suppose you find the 2nd product appealing and decide to search for it again using its exact title next search: “Dress women’s new bubble sleeve square collar play.” Ideally, this product should appear as the top result in your subsequent search. However, in practice, it fails to show up on the first page of results — or at all. This example underscores a critical flaw in the search algorithm that needs addressing to enhance user experience and accuracy.

In addition, the search inquiry has a hard limit on 50 characters. This further limited the search context you can get from users.

The issue of low lead-to-customer conversion rates on Alibaba can largely be attributed to this inefficiencies of its in-house search engine. Initially, customers are often misdirected by the search results, which puts them into the wrong purchasing funnel. This misalignment may encourage users to initiate contact with sellers by asking for quotes, effectively generating leads. However, this does not necessarily translate into actual purchases, resulting in a disappointingly low final conversion rate.

Improving the accuracy and relevance of the search engine should be a priority for Alibaba. A well-functioning search engine should match users with products and suppliers that precisely meet their needs, thereby increasing the likelihood of converting initial inquiries into sales. For comparison, consider this data point collected from a supplier whose sales are driven solely by Google SEO. His website achieves a lead-to-customer conversion rate of approximately 8%. This benchmark, which results from the effective use of a well-tuned search engine, demonstrates the potential improvements Alibaba could realize by refining their search capabilities. Enhancing their search engine could significantly boost conversion rates while also improving overall user satisfaction and trust in the platform.

Trust issues between buyers and sellers
Photo by benjamin lehman on Unsplash

Trust issues between buyers and sellers on Alibaba stem primarily from the nature of the products, which require manufacturing and can’t always be fully assessed through online listings. For buyers, making an informed purchase decision typically necessitates obtaining samples from sellers. However, producing these samples is both time-consuming and costly, often requiring human labor that can take hours or even days. Consequently, many sellers charge between $100-$200 for a custom sample. If a buyer wishes to evaluate offerings from multiple sellers — say, ten different ones — they could end up spending over a thousand dollars just on samples alone.

Given this scenario, it is clear that this trust issue won’t be fully eliminated, but there are still ways to optimized it. For example, Alibaba should aid buyers in defining precisely what products they need through a more creative data collection survey or an intelligent Q&A chatbot, and help them precisely narrow their choices to a smaller number of sellers, thereby reducing the costs associated with sampling.

Another significant trust issue arises during bulk production, where some suppliers might compromise on quality to cut costs — for instance, using lighter or cheaper materials than those used in the samples. Often, such discrepancies are only detected through meticulous inspections, such as cutting a piece of the final fabric to measure GSM or conducting laundry tests. These necessary inspections add further costs for buyers, who must hire inspectors to ensure product quality matches that of the samples provided.

Elon Musk

To address these issues, Alibaba could benefit from establishing a robust review and comment system, along with a credit system to evaluate the reliability of sellers. However, implementing a credit system is complex and risks alienating sellers if not executed carefully. Taking inspiration from how Elon Musk made Twitter’s recommendation system open-source, Alibaba could similarly create and open-source a credit scoring algorithm. This transparency would motivate sellers to improve their scores by maintaining high standards.

Additionally, the platform could employ AI to analyze seller materials based on past reviews and product specifics, providing professional and objective feedback to guide buyer decisions. While trust issues are inherently challenging to resolve, there is substantial room for Alibaba to enhance how these problems are addressed, thereby improving the platform’s overall trustworthiness and efficiency.

Misalignment on Product Details

Misalignment between buyers and sellers regarding product details is a significant source of conflict on Alibaba. This issue often stems from a gap in industrial knowledge. Buyers, particularly small to medium-sized fashion brand owners, might not possess a formal fashion education, and therefore may lack the specialized vocabulary needed to accurately convey their design intentions. For instance, during customer interviews, we discovered that while brand owners might use terms like “deconstructed” to describe a fashion style where elements such as seams, hems, and structures are intentionally unfinished to create an edgy look, manufacturers might misinterpret this as a directive to simplify the design by reducing components, which alters the product and reduces production costs. This discrepancy is not just about language, but about understanding the artistic nuances behind the terms used.

Photo by Roberto Martinez on Unsplash

The use of technical packs is highly encouraged by manufacturers, particularly in the Western world, to bridge this communication gap. A tech pack includes detailed documents outlining every aspect of a garment’s construction. While the creation of a tech pack typically falls to a technical fashion designer who understands both the artistic vision and the practical manufacturing requirements, the cost — ranging from $15 to $2500 per collection — can be prohibitive for some brand owners. Moreover, many do not fully appreciate the importance of these packs, viewing them as a costly precaution similar to insurance, which they may be reluctant to invest in.

As a solution, Alibaba could facilitate access to technical fashion design services within its platform. By offering services that help clarify and standardize communication between buyers and sellers, Alibaba can reduce conflicts and misunderstandings. This could be an optional service, but it would also represent a new revenue stream for Alibaba, while simultaneously enhancing the quality of interactions and transactions on its platform.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Another indirect negative impact on sellers stemming from misalignment is related to Alibaba’s Trade Assurance program. This program provides a layer of protection by allowing buyers to withhold payment until they are satisfied with the products they receive. Sellers can join this program for free, which helps them build trust with buyers. However, due to potential misalignments, this trust can sometimes be exploited by buyers who may repeatedly request product revisions, leading to additional costs for sellers. By minimizing misalignments, such situations could be reduced, fostering a healthier community on the platform.

Cultural and Time Differences

Alibaba.com, with its focus on overseas suppliers for the U.S. market, encounters significant challenges related to language, culture, and time zone differences. These barriers can complicate communication and slow down transaction processes. It’s not uncommon to see agents on platforms like TikTok who specialize in navigating these challenges, but utilizing such services incurs additional costs and does not fundamentally resolve the underlying issues.

To optimize the handling of these differences, Alibaba could significantly enhance its platform by implementing a finely tuned AI language chatbot. This chatbot could efficiently handle most frequently asked questions using information provided by sellers, thereby streamlining communication and reducing delays. For more complex inquiries where accuracy is crucial and errors cannot be afforded, these could be queued for human response, ensuring that they are addressed the following day. Although Alibaba has already begun using AI chatbots, the effectiveness of these tools has been less than satisfactory. Enhancing the capabilities of these chatbots through advanced training and better integration with the platform’s functionalities could greatly improve user experience and operational efficiency.


Based on this analysis, it is clear that Alibaba has considerable room for improvement. However, given its dominant position in terms of resources and market share, there may not be a compelling internal drive to address these issues urgently. With advancements in AI and software productivity, the landscape is ripe for innovation. We believe that a startup, specifically one as ambitious as Lookr.fyi, is well-positioned to compete with Alibaba in the B2B wholesale industry. Lookr.fyi aims to leverage these technological advancements to offer more efficient and user-centric solutions, potentially setting a new standard in the market.