New Alibaba AI tool simplifies sourcing processes.

Trade relations between the United States and China have not been going smoothly of late, and the economic news out of the People’s Republic has also been less than stellar, but U.S. businesses are selling more than ever before into the world’s most populous country.

A few reasons explain this phenomenon. Foremost, the rapid economic growth that China experienced before encountering its recent speed bump has produced an enormous middle class. Those folks have developed tastes for everything from pet products to U.S. snack brands and luxury goods. According to a report by Bain & Co., Chinese shoppers will comprise 40% of all luxury consumers by 2030.

China’s Digital Transformation

China has also undergone a massive digital transformation. It represents the largest e-commerce market globally, according to the International Trade Association (ITA), generating nearly half of all transactions. Over 50% of all retail sales in China will soon be taking place online, according to figures from the Alibaba Group., a platform for business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce launched in 1999 and headquartered in Hangzhou, China, serves buyers and suppliers in 200 countries and regions around the world, and is helping to drive that growth. Over one-billion Chinese consumers buy items such as computers and electronics, apparel and leather products, and personal care and health products, from businesses represented on's international e-commerce platforms. According to findings from the economic research firm NDP Analytics, U.S. companies sold over $66 billion worth of consumer goods to Chinese buyers on's e-commerce platforms in 2022, a 7.5% increase over the prior year.

“Demand for U.S. goods in China is really strong,” said Rah Mahtani, head of marketing for North America at “There is tremendous demand for many iconic brands and luxury products in China.” Cross-border e-commerce on's platforms has grown by 47.4% since 2019, according to Mahtani.

Alibaba recently introduced a new tool on its platforms called Smart Assistant, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), which makes it easier for sellers to source products and for suppliers to have their products found. “It’s designed to simplify the process for suppliers to list products and create a storefront on the platform,” said Mahtani. “For the buyer, it simplifies the process of identifying products and suppliers and managing shipments.”

In the first place, Smart Assistant saves vendors time when it comes to listing dozens or hundreds of products on virtual storefronts. For buyers, the tool makes it easier to find suppliers of existing products and to develop new ones.

“A major time suck for suppliers is to have to list 200 SKUs within their stores and write out the descriptions and the specifications for the products,” said Mahtani. “Smart Assistant streamlines the process of uploading products and listings on the back end by filling in their pricing and product descriptions.”

That’s pretty much “standard-fair AI,” as Mahtani put it, as it involves extracting data and populating a form. But it helps with one of the biggest pain points that small and mid-size business owners experience. According to a recent Alibaba survey, time, or the lack thereof, is a big problem facing business owners, second only to inflation and the rising cost of goods. “Roughly three-quarters of business owners say that time is one of their biggest obstacles to getting anything done,” said Mahtani.'s system reaches into user databases to find relevant information but also employs internet searches and's own data to help vendors and suppliers with time-consuming e-commerce tasks. “Because we have so many years of experience in sourcing, we can identify specific data about products and use that pre-populate information about them in the storefront,” said Mahtani. “In the case of garments, for example, the system understands the need to provide information about sizing, fabrics, etc.”

Knowledge Source for Vendors

The data also serves as a knowledge source for vendors who might not be experienced in specific areas they are exploring. For example, if a seller is looking to source silverware, the system could direct their attention to the varying weights, polishes, and price points that are available in the marketplace.

“It can even take knowledge a step further,” said Mahtani, “to tell the seller the best ways to negotiate with the supplier about metals content and minimum order quantities.”

Product discovery is a big part of what the platform offers, making it easier for sellers to find manufacturers, suppliers, and products of interest to them. “A lot of business owners are looking for trending or very specific products,” said Mahtani. “We also allow business owners to create something new.”

So, for example, the advanced features of the tool allow users to upload a photo of a product to the search bar and get results in the form of information about similar products together with their manufacturers and suppliers. The system also allows use of spoken language to provide descriptions of products being sought.

If the vendor has an idea for improving such a product, the system can inform the user whether such a product already exists, or, if, not, the system will bring the user into a workflow called RFQ (request for quotation) in which the user enters relevant information and specifications related to the product idea. The system assists the user by prepopulating some of the material specifications and prompts the user to add data on issues such as order quantities and shipping timelines.

“We’ve also added the ability to create an image of the new product using AI,” said Mahtani, “and for the user to go back into the description to edit items such as colors and materials.”

The AI tool is already generating positive results for its users. According to Mahtani, buyers are getting 29% more quotes from suppliers using the AI version of RFQ and suppliers are seeing a 21% increase in responses.

“We’re also finding that these tools are resulting in 20% higher deal closing rate for our suppliers,” he added. “It’s getting more precise results in line with what buyers are looking for, so it’s benefiting both buyers and suppliers.”