Alibaba has opened access to its B2B marketplace to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in North America, alongside new features to support the onboarding and marketing efforts of new suppliers, or sellers, on the site.

The B2B unit is separate from Alibaba’s retail e-commerce platforms, including and, which sell goods directly to consumers.

In a corporate post outlining the launch, John Caplan, head of North America B2B at Alibaba Group, said the move is aimed at “providing the tools and services needed for US SMB companies to compete and succeed in today’s global marketplace”.

Sellers will get an easy-to-use interface for building and managing a digital store on the platform, tools for customer-relationship management and digital marketing, as well as online payments. To promote the platform being live in America, Alibaba is planning a series of ‘Build Up’ events across the country, beginning in in Brooklyn.

Earlier this year, Alibaba signed a major partnership with Office Depot, to utilise the office supply chain’s on-the-ground resources across the US, with the retailer using Alibaba’s 150,000 global suppliers to bolster its offering.

A co-branded online destination, “Office Depot on” was also launched, giving US SMBs access to Alibaba’s global supplier network and its broad selection of products, in addition to exclusive online and in-store offers.

Alibaba already claims to have more than 10 million active B2B businesses and 180,000 brands in more than 190 regions. It continues to seek a larger share of the global B2B e-commerce market which, according to the US International Trade Commission, is worth US$23.9tn – six times what the global B2C ecommerce market is worth.

The company has also been making moves to expand its retail e-commerce business internationally. In June it launched an English-language portal on Tmall Global to attract more overseas consumers and brands.

The B2B launch takes Alibaba takes a step closer to a head-on collision with Amazon, which launched a similar B2B platform in 2015 – Amazon Business – that caters to similar clients in the US.

A potentially important point of difference between the two was noted by Caplan, who said Alibaba would offer clients a flat membership fee of a couple of thousand dollars a year, rather than, as Amazon does, taking a cut from the sales the client makes using it.

Sourced from Alizila, The Drum, South China Morning Post; additional content by WARC staff