Alibaba becomes product designer with Tmall Innovation Center

By Chris Dawson April 24, 2018 - 10:30 am

Alibaba have moved beyond the realms of being a marketplace to being a product design partner with their Tmall Innovation Center (TMIC).

Alibaba operates China’s largest e-commerce platforms. Its half-billion-plus customer base represents a wealth of information and valuable insights for companies looking to bolster engagement with Chinese consumers.

By marrying this information with analytical capabilities, Alibaba offers brands a clear roadmap to navigate every stage of the product cycle—from discovery to design to development.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before, but this is a natural extension of Alibaba’s service, from an e-commerce portal provider to product development.”
– Matthew Crabbe, Director of Asia-Pacific regional trends, Mintel Group.

TMIC conducts market research, sales and data analysis and even does product design. Alibaba recruited dozens of market researchers from top consultancies to staff the center. The Hangzhou-based team helps brands conceptualize a product or service customized to a selected demographic of Chinese consumers that can be manufactured at scale. TMIC has partnered with 37 global groups, including Mars, P&G, Mattel and L’Oreal, and niche brands, like US medical skincare company SkinCeuticals.

“By offering brands a fuller look on what and when to offer to the Chinese customers, we have significantly increased the success rate of the product and reduced the lead time and cost for our partners.”
– Miya Duan, Head of Tmall Innovation Center

Capitalizing on the growing popularity of mala, the Chinese word for “numbing and spicy,” the world’s biggest confection maker, Mars, last year teamed up with Alibaba Group to create a chili-infused Snickers bar that aims to satisfy Chinese consumers’ hunger—and their craving for a tongue-tingling treat.

The collaboration involved the integration of analytics from Mars’ consumer research, the 500 million-plus users of Alibaba’s online marketplaces and a customer survey aimed at finding a new flavour to bring to the market. The result showed that not only did Chinese consumers love spicy food, but that they were willing try chocolate with an extra kick to it, too.

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Launched in 2014, the purpose of Tmall Global was to make it easier for merchants outside China to get their goods to the burgeoning ecommerce shopping population in China.


Alibaba is China’s biggest online commerce company that offers consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business sales.

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