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  • Writer's pictureAlina Stehle

Alibaba’s Five-Day Delivery Service: What It Means For Local Dutch Shop Owners

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

© Alina Stehle

Alibaba's launch of a five-day delivery service in four European countries, including the Netherlands, may change the fact of Groningens shopping street but consumers are shrugging their shoulders.

The Chinese multinational company Alibaba has announced that after a month long test of five-day delivery in South Korea, it will extend its transport concept to Belgium, UK, Netherlands and Spain. The test in South Korea doubled Alibaba’s profits in the region, showing the demand for fast delivery. According to Alibaba, this change will ensure that their international shippings are 30% faster than the worldwide average delivery time.

The decision made by Alibaba does not surprise Bart Los, a Professor of Economics at the University of Groningen, as it aligns with the ongoing trend of globalization. Trade has intensified since the 2000s, leading to a wave of trade liberalisation in recent years and making it easier for big companies like Alibaba to export their goods, says Los.

The economic decision of Alibaba could have significant long-term impact on different areas such as on the environment causing more CO2 emissions for transport. It could also lead to an increase in online shopping, cutting into local businesses profits.

Groningen residents remain calm

Alibaba's new delivery strategy will not alter the shopping habits of 57-year-old Monique Hageman, who intends to persist in purchasing clothing and other items from local stores. According to her, these retailers very much contribute to the atmosphere of Groningen.

Opting for online shopping, Jeffrey van Sluis (25) finds it considerably more convenient to purchase clothing and technical products. "I don't really look at where it comes from," he says. The only reason he wouldn't order something from outside of Europe would be if there were high taxes.

New competitor doesn't scare local shops in Groningen

One shop that is a key part of the city for many Groningen residents is the Godert Walter bookshop. It has been selling books for more than 80 years, and despite Alibaba’s arrival as a new competitor, Elianne Nijborg, employee of the bookshop, remains optimistic. "I am not really afraid of Alibaba's five-day delivery," she says.

Inside the Godert Walter Bookshop © Godert Walter

Godert Walter's clientele is mostly local, which is reflected in how they adapted their strategy in recent years. Currently, they are able to deliver Dutch books within a day via their website. A general problem is that most of the regular customers are older, and it is more difficult for them to attract young customers for the future.

“Young people are the most likely to order online, so we need to find a way to attract them to local stores," says Nijborg. She believes the main reason people still visit local stores is the personal advice and the interaction with others: "People get people here".

For Margariet Scholma, Alibaba isn't a serious competitor. She sells luxury lingerie in a family business and the quality offered on Alibaba isn't the same as the one of her own business, she says. In the last few years, she has noticed less people coming into the shop, but she still gets a regular flow of customers who appreciate the personal service.

Near the University of Groningen, a new shop called À la Lies has been launched by Lisanne van Drunnen. Initially operating as an online store, she transitioned to a physical shop in Groningen in response to the strong demand for the clothing and accessories she offers.

"So far, it's very busy and a lot of people come in," she says. Van Drunnen hopes this will continue in the future, but the horizon is far from certain with competitors such as Alibaba.

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