East meets West: A comparative tale of two e-commerce giants placing big bets on the cloud

Alibaba Cloud, AWS focus on build-outs of global footprints via infrastructure investments in 5G and expansion of data center and edge locations

While the growth of the two globally dispersed e-commerce giants Alibaba and Amazon is largely fueled by retail, both businesses have showed marked dedication to the growth of their respective cloud empires, focusing on infrastructure to fuel global expansion and investment in augmenting their respective portfolios. The investment in cloud is evident as the backbone driving each business as they compete on the global stage to become leaders in digital transformation (DT).

Alibaba Group’s aforementioned profit margins, fueled by its B2B operating model, have enabled a hefty investment of $28 billion dedicated to the cloud business. As the world was gripped by the initial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic back in April, the parent company announced the allocation of the sum, which stands as a massive proclamation of the company’s dedication to cloud and related technologies as the core drivers toward the enablement of DT. The sweeping investment, coupled with new leadership and an expanding partnership strategy, solidifies Alibaba’s intent to position its cloud business as a viable contender against AWS, especially in APAC. Alibaba is clearly placing a large majority of its bets on cloud and the future of DT, as the investment equates to 40% of its total 2019 revenue and is 5.7x the revenue of Alibaba Cloud.

The investment will have a profound impact on Alibaba Cloud’s ability to execute on strategies around DT, infrastructure build-out and R&D, and came at a time when the world could not have been in more need of capabilities such as increased bandwidth and enterprise and SME support. The focus in the medium term is a multifaceted push to gain scale globally, attract new customers and expand wallet share with existing customers, and much of this growth will be propelled by the expansion of Alibaba Cloud’s infrastructure backbone with the build-out of data centers and investment in 5G across EMEA and APAC.

Since solidifying its dominance in China and garnering competitive positioning on the global stage, Alibaba has been frequently referred to as the “Amazon of China.” Both companies have anchored their businesses as e-commerce platforms and have demonstrated parallel growth trajectories, becoming mainstays in the lives and businesses of customers globally. The uniqueness of their respective journeys, which have been significantly shaped by their foundations as e-commerce giants, does not overshadow the companies’ similar strategies. Over time, Alibaba and Amazon have evolved rapidly into diversified companies with a distinct focus on technology and digital transformation. While the companies are in different phases of their growth, in terms of size and global footprint, and have different operating models, the investments in and focus on their respective cloud businesses to drive growth are evident when comparing their evolutions and forward-looking growth strategies.  

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