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Online retail guru comes knocking

China’s richest man will be in Kenya next week in what is billed to be a game-changer for e-commence and small businesses. Born Ma Yun, but professionally known as Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and online retail guru runs a chain of Internet-based enterprises under the Alibaba Group banner, where he is executive chairman.

The former English teacher from Hangzhou, who is renowned as “Crazy Ma” because of his unorthodox management philosophy is acclaimed for building one of the most valuable companies in the world in just 15 years.

Estimated to be worth $35 billion (Sh3.5 trillion) — according to Forbes – Jack’s wealth dwarfs Kenya’s entire Sh2.6 trillion budget for the financial year 2016/17. His presence in the country is expected to create a buzz in the online retail segment, which is growing despite being at infancy.

It also happens to be at a time when the brick and mortar retail sector is struggling amid a cash crunch. Even with these teething problems, the steady growth of e-commerce in Kenya will gradually pick with players like Kaymu — touted to be Kenya’s Alibaba — OLX, Kopokopo and Jumia among others gaining traction.

OLX Country Manager Peter Ndiang’ui told People Daily that a lot of learning and trust building needs to happen before the country can reach some level of critical mass adoption of online retailing “but it is coming sooner than we might think”.

“Online retail is still a new phenomenon in the country and at the moment only about one per cent of the entire Sh1.2 trillion local retail spend happens through online platforms. This is quite small compared to countries like China where it’s approaching 16 per cent,” said Ndiang’ui.

“To move this adoption faster, we need to educate the public more and continue building trust in online platforms.” Formal retail in Kenya occupies a very small part of the entire retail trade which is currently estimated at 30 per cent of the shopping experience in the country.

Jack, who founded the Alibaba Group in 1999, was appointed the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development special adviser in 2016 prompting his visit to Kenya and Rwanda from July 19 to 21 to explore opportunities with local businesses to participate in global trade and raise awareness about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

He has made a number of acquisitions since 2005 and seems to have no plans to slow penchant for inorganic growth and Jack is said to have his sights set on India.

He also has a funny side, online news sources say that while listing the online shopping platform on the New York Stock Exchange catapulted him to the limelight, a study of him in his native China reveals a larger-than-life figure that performs karaoke on stage for thousands of his employees.

His business has been bullish though; in the fiscal year through March 2016 Alibaba’s retail platforms carried business transactions worth $463 billion (Sh46 trillion), which is fine for a person who has set a goal of creating 10 million profitable businesses and 100 million jobs in the next 20 years.

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