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Alibaba offers risk, opportunity to LI businesses

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. signage is displayed on

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. signage is displayed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Bloomberg News / Scott Eells

The buzz surrounding Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba's debut as a publicly traded company Friday may encourage Long Island small business owners to explore the company's websites for their business potential, experts said.

"For many years companies in America have been using Alibaba, but now the whole world knows about it," said China-business expert Savio Chan of Great Neck, co-author of the new book "China's Super Consumers," to be released Monday.

Some caution is in order, Chan said. He warned businesses should vet potential deals. But he said it could be "beneficial for small businesses on Long Island to know about Alibaba, because it provides another platform for them to buy from China and sell to Chinese consumers directly."

Shares of Alibaba, a Hangzhou-based group of Internet-based e-commerce businesses, began trading at $92.70 on the New York Stock Exchange, well above the initial offering price of $68. The stock closed Friday at $93.89, giving the company a stock-market value of more than $231 billion, well beyond that of Amazon, eBay and Facebook.

"Alibaba's IPO will have a lot of repercussions," said Susan Sadocha, director of the Long Island U.S. Export Assistance Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce. "It is important for businesses to understand the opportunities and challenges of e-commerce." The center is hosting a conference on discovering global markets on Oct. 7 and 8 in Manhattan.

Alibaba.com, just one of the company's websites, is a multilingual business-to-business portal that connects Chinese manufacturers, importers and exporters with overseas businesses, to order goods from China. Another website is TMall.com, a marketplace where sellers can find Chinese consumers.

Alibaba could present "ways to save money and grow your business," said business consultant Corrinne Graham, president of Coram-based Graham International Consulting and Research.

Alibaba doesn't directly sell goods or services, warned Chan, who was born in Hong Kong and is CEO of consulting firm U.S. China Partners Inc.

"Alibaba is only a platform," he said. "They are not endorsing businesses . . . You have to be cautious, have business sense and do your due diligence."

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