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There be giants



Amazon and Alibaba represent a new type of conglomerate. How should rivals and governments adapt?

亚马逊 和阿里巴巴代表着一种新型的企业集团。竞争对 手和政府应如何去适应?


SHOPPERS will spend record sums online in the next few weeks—in China for Singles Day on November 11th, in America on Black Friday and around the world in the run-up to Christmas. E-commerce has been growing by 20% a year for a decade, shaking up industries from logistics to consumer goods. Nowhere does debate rage more fiercely about what this means than in America, where thousands of stores have shut this year and where retailing accounts for one in nine jobs. 

接下来 的几周买家们的网上消费要创纪录了:中国有11月11日的光棍节,美国有“黑色星期五”,全世界 也都在为圣诞节热身。十年来 电子商务以每年20%的速度增长,撼动了 从物流到消费品的各行各业。至于这意味着什么,没有哪 个地方兴起的争论比美国更激烈——在美国,今年有 成千上万家实体店关门,而零售 业占了所有就业岗位的九分之一。


Astonishingly, online shopping has only just got started. Last year it amounted to a mere 8.5% of the world’s retail spending. In America the share was about 10%. Its effects on business and society will be huge. Not just because retailing is a big employer that touches many industries, but also because its two greatest exponents, Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos, the founders of Alibaba and Amazon, have used it to amass a new sort of conglomerate (see our special report). The question is whether its creation will foster competition or demand restraint.

令人惊讶的是,网上购物才刚刚起步。去年它 仅占全球零售总额的8.5%,在美国这个比例约为10%。网上购 物将对商业和社会产生巨大的影响。这不仅 因为零售业是一个涉及许多行业的大雇主,还因为 其两大代表人物——阿里巴 巴的创始人马云和亚马逊的创始人杰夫·贝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)利用这 一行业汇聚起一类新的企业集团。问题是,这样的 集团是会促进竞争,还是需要限制。


In the past two decades Alibaba and Amazon have added ever more services, from cloud computing to video. The firms’ businesses will reinforce each other as consumers and companies become more likely to use their platforms, and diverse sources of revenue and data power further growth. As a result, the two giants sit at the centre of all sorts of activity. In America Amazon is showing, week by week, the havoc that an innovative e-commerce firm can wreak in a giant, mature market. In China Alibaba is showing how dramatically one company can reshape business in a fast-growing economy. They will not conquer every industry they touch but, as they expand, few firms will change as many sectors in as many places. 

过去20年,阿里巴 巴和亚马逊增加了从云计算到视频等越来越多的服务。随着消 费者和公司使用其平台的几率增加,这两家 公司各自的业务线将会相互促进,而多种 多样的收入及数据来源又推动了公司进一步发展。结果,这两大 巨头已经位居各类活动的核心。在美国,亚马逊 每周都在展示一个创新的电子商务公司如何给一个巨大的成熟市场带来浩劫。而在中国,阿里巴 巴正展示在一个快速增长的经济体中,一家公 司能够如何剧烈地重塑行业。这两家 公司不会征服所接触的每个行业,但随着它们的扩张,极少有 公司会与之一样,在这么 多地方改变这么多行业。


Through one lens, this is a boon for competition. The e-commerce sites of Amazon and Alibaba lower barriers to entry by providing a simpler, cheaper way for small manufacturers to distribute goods and find potential buyers. Local manufacturers are challenging multinational giants. Consumers benefit, as they can choose from more and better products than ever.

从某个角度看,这对竞争是一大福音。亚马逊 和阿里巴巴的电子商务网站降低了准入门槛,为小型 制造商提供了一种更简单、更廉价 的方式来分销商品、寻找潜在买家。本地制 造商正在挑战跨国巨头。消费者也从中受益,因为他 们有比以往更多更好的产品可选。


Yet as the giant e-commerce platforms grow, so does unease about their might. With access to cheap, patient capital, Amazon can make big investments, including in warehouses, artificial intelligence and other firms such as Whole Foods, a grocer it bought for $13.7bn this year. Those investments, combined with the vast amounts of data on the consumers and businesses on its platform, mean that competitors struggle to keep up.

然而,随着巨 型电商平台日益发展,人们对 其威力的担忧也逐步加深。有了廉 价的长期投资资本,亚马逊 可以做出大笔的投资,包括投资于仓库、人工智 能和收购其他公司,比如今年它以137亿美元 收购了食品杂货商全食超市(Whole Foods)。这些投资,再加上 其平台上生成的有关消费者和企业的海量数据,令竞争对手难以匹敌。


Amazon’s challengers should learn from China, where Alibaba’s rivals are teaming up. Tencent began as a gaming and messaging company. It now has a thriving digital-payments business and is the biggest shareholder in JD.com, Alibaba’s closest e-commerce competitor. JD is working with other retailers and tech firms, too. In August it announced that shoppers could buy through Baidu, China’s leading search engine.

亚马逊 的挑战者应该向中国学习:在那里,阿里巴 巴的竞争对手们正抱团合作。腾讯最 初是一家游戏和即时通讯公司,如今其 数字支付业务也在蓬勃发展。它还是 京东的最大股东,而京东 是阿里巴巴在电商领域最大的竞争对手。京东也 在与其他零售商和科技公司合作。今年8月,京东宣 布顾客可以通过中国领先的搜索引擎百度购物。


Amazon’s would-be competitors might follow a similar path, by forging partnerships. Walmart (another investor in JD), for example, seems to be adopting JD’s tactics, making its products available through Google’s voice assistant to counter Amazon’s Alexa. Facebook wants to make it easier for customers to buy goods featured in its ads. And Google, to the horror of some privacy advocates, is tracking consumers to help bricks-and-mortar shops see which online ads work. American firms may yet catch up with their Chinese counterparts.

意欲挑 战亚马逊的竞争者可能也会采取类似的方式,缔结合作伙伴关系。沃尔玛(京东的另一个投资者)似乎正 在采用京东的策略,借助谷 歌的语音助手来销售产品,以此对抗亚马逊的Alexa。Facebook希望能 让用户更方便地购买其广告中出现的商品。而让一 些提倡保护隐私权的人士感到恐惧的是,谷歌正在追踪消费者,帮助实 体商店了解哪些在线广告能起作用。在这方面,美国公 司说不定还是能赶上中国同行的。


Will that be enough to guarantee competition? Regulators must be vigilant. More mergers are now likely among both makers of consumer goods and retailers, as they seek the heft to battle Amazon. Deals between retailers and tech firms will complicate matters further.

这足以保证竞争吗?监管机 构必须保持警惕。消费品 制造商和零售商为获得能与亚马逊竞争的实力,今后可 能会达成更多的合并。零售商 和科技公司之间的合作协议则会让形势变得更加复杂。


Watch the giants



In antitrust cases America’s courts have tended to assume that new entrepreneurs would challenge profitable incumbents. But in America venture-capital funding for e-commerce firms is dropping, in part because investors think Amazon will be dominant. This newspaper has argued that regulators should weigh the effect of mergers on the control of data as well as market share—especially for Amazon, given its existing power and range. Antitrust rules, as with so much else in the Amazon era, look as if they will need updating.

在反垄断案件中,美国法 院一贯倾向于认为新的企业家会挑战盈利的在位企业。然而在美国,电子商 务公司获得的风险投资正在减少,部分原 因是投资者认为亚马逊将占据主导。本刊认为,除了对 市场份额的影响,监管机 构也应该权衡合并对数据控制的影响——尤其要留意亚马逊,毕竟它实力雄厚,业务范围广阔。看起来,反垄断 法就像亚马逊时代的其他许多事物一样,也需要更新了。


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