Alibaba to launch e-commerce service in India through subsidiary UCWeb

UCWeb will partner with Flipkart and Paytm Mall to offer online shopping ‘within this year.’

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Ahead of the festive season period beginning in India from September, Jack Ma-led Alibaba Group through its subsidiary UCWeb is looking to get into e-commerce service in India, a local newspaper reported.

Huaiyuan Yang, the vice president of UCWeb global business, said Thursday the company should be able to launch the service “within this year”. The Chinese company plans to partner with India’s leading online marketplace Flipkart and Alibaba’s portfolio company in the country, Paytm Mall.

UCWeb doesn’t wish to get into end-to-end e-commerce service to begin with and just wants to test the water as Yang said they will not facilitate payments or last-mile delivery of the product and will just partner with other platforms.

“We will integrate products from different platforms which people can browse through and share, but if people have to make an actual purchase, the engine will lead them to the actual website for the purchase to happen,” said Yang.

Yang sees India as one of the key markets for UCWeb and Alibaba since around 40% of the population is already connected to the Internet. Its web browser platform, UC Browser has been present in India since 2009, and the company claims to have 130 million active users in the country, with a total of 1.1 billion users globally, excluding China.

In India, it has been lately focusing on creating video content targeting users from tier 2 and 3 cities. “We are trying to provide content in many local languages to the local users apart from the 15 languages we already offer,” Yang said.

According to him, UCWeb has partnered with 120,000 bloggers or content creators and has 700 media organizations on its platform. Showing its commitment to the Indian market, it’s slowly complying with the local rules and regulations. To begin with, it said it’s already storing most of the data on Indian users in the country as mandated by the government for foreign companies operating in India.

Reportedly, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is creating a draft guidelines for content-based social media platforms and it wants them to “develop mechanisms using AI (artificial intelligence) to find out accounts transmitting illegal, inflammatory or any content which could disturb law and order or threat to national security, and then take them down,” a senior government official told a local newspaper Economic Times.

Yang said UCWeb uses a mix of machine auditing and manual auditing to ensure that such content is not posted on its website.

Alibaba has invested in a dozen startups in India, with a few big names such as payments platform Paytm, online marketplace Snapdeal, food ordering and delivery company Zomato, grocery delivery company BigBasket, among others. After writing big cheques in the past, Alibaba is changing its strategy in India and is looking at signing smaller cheques and might even put a temporary brake on investing in India for a while.