Walking through Alibaba's Xixi Hangzhou campus, home to 20,000 employees, is similar to descriptions of Google's or Facebook's headquarters: quirky, innovative - and everything on a huge scale.
And after a three-hour tour of the campus - one of three Alibaba sites in Hangzhou - it seems that working for one of the world's largest e-commerce companies is as much a way of life as a job, with a blurred line between work and home life.
Alibaba is worth $630 billion (US$ 442.2b) and deals with an average of 55 million packages a day. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, employs 60,000 people and has operations in hundreds of countries.
The obvious comparison is with US giant Amazon.com. Based on its share price, Amazon is bigger, with a total market value of about $1 trillion. But Alibaba is more profitable, and by some measures it is already much bigger in e-commerce.
Alibaba's annual 11.11 shopping festival, also known as Singles' Day, is considered the biggest shopping day in the world, having surpassed the commercial success of US counterparts Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
During last year's 11.11 event, Alibaba made sales worth $36b - including three large luxury yachts and 100 Maserati cars.
The company owns shopping platforms Tmall, Tmall Global, Taobao and AliExpress, among others, and has more than 40 subsidiaries including online/offline supermarket chain Hema, Lazada Group, Alizila and Alibaba Pictures.
Some might describe the working environment at Alibaba as quirky. Others might see it as cult-like. Every year, it hosts a "group wedding" where thousands of its employees - many of whom met on campus - tie the knot, with company founder and executive chairman Jack Ma attending as an unofficial celebrant.
Then there is the attention to celebrating workplace milestones. Employees are given a pin badge after their first year with the company, a necklace after three and an 18-carat gold ring after five years with Alibaba.
After the five-year mark it seems there's no going back. The ring is symbolic, representing a commitment, or being wedded to the company.
Nick Siu, director of marketing firm The Agency 88, which specialises in Asian markets, says Chinese work ethics are centred on a collective approach.
"Rings can show compassion and commitment in Chinese, and to me it would show a true commitment from each party to each other. It can also signify a long-term relationship which, again, whilst potentially strange from a western value-set, given the collective belief system by Chinese, this is not entirely unreasonable," Sui says. "Chinese work ethics are generally based on the idea of a collective, as opposed to an individual culture."
Blurred boundaries between personal and professional lives are not frowned upon in China, Siu says. "In Chinese business culture, the emphasis is on building strong social networks so personal relationships play a crucial role in professional lives.
"It's not unusual to be contacted after hours or to go to team building activities on days off, and is something quite accepted amongst many Chinese employees. It seems as if Alibaba has amplified this value of care by delivering massage chairs, restaurant, cafe, post offices and they are to be applauded for that."
The average age of an Alibaba employee is 27, and the Hangzhou campus feels more like a university than an office of mass-scale.
Workers get around on bicycles and mopeds, there are cafes, a restaurant, bakery, post office, and tents for workers in need of a nap.
The campus grounds are perfectly groomed, with verges featuring the company name mown into the grass, there are figurines of the Taobao company mascot scattered about, and there's a museum. However, the three life-size statues of naked men probably aren't something you'd see at most tech companies.
A female employee said the naked artwork symbolised transparency in the workplace and was to encourage employees to be open. Other concrete statues include one of people paddling a rowboat, symbolising teamwork and working towards the same goal.
An Alibaba spokesman said the company offered flexible working hours, with workers able to start their day any time before 10am and its management style is said to be hands-off, with a flat hierarchy.
When company executive chairman and founder Jack Ma pays a visit, he works from a gated house on the campus.
New Zealand companies' success in China
Alibaba's global business head of Tmall, Yi Qian, who visits New Zealand regularly, says Tmall is the way many Kiwi companies are able to sell products in China.
Tmall's global business started four years ago, with the aim of introducing high-quality products for the growing number of middle-to-upper-class Chinese. It now serves 70 million customers and is aiming for 100 million.
"[A] rapid consumption upgrade is happening," Yi says. "This happened in developed companies 10 or 15 years ago, but it's happening in China [now]."
Tmall sells products from 18,000 brands and 80 countries - more than 400 of which are New Zealand brands. Sellers include large retailers such as Costco, Chemist Warehouse and Macy's, as well as thousands of small and medium-sized businesses.
New Zealand firms using the platforms include Fonterra, Antipodes, Linden Leaves, Ecostore, Anchor, Trilogy, Anmum, Whittaker's, Kathmandu, Healtheries and a2 Milk. The most popular New Zealand brands with Chinese consumers are a2, Anchor, Comvita, Fonterra and its Anmum milk formula.
The lure of success on the platform and word-of-mouth recommendations are enticing other New Zealand companies to get onboard, Yi says. "Right now it's much easier as we have a lot of good success stories," he says.
"The beginning is always difficult because the brand has to think about why they should do it, why they should put in resources to do it, but now I think the train is getting more reversed, it's actually more of the brands coming directly to us."
Sales of products from New Zealand companies on Tmall grew more than 200 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same time last year.
Chinese consumers' perceptions of New Zealand are driving their purchase habits, says Yi. "The Chinese consumer is always looking at New Zealand products as good, natural and organic." Health, beauty and wellness categories would continue to show strong growth, he says.
Fresh and organic foods and petfood are categories likely to enjoy the most growth in the near future, says Yi. "Chinese consumers want more varied products from [Australasia]. Previously it was very dominated by supplements and infant formula, but it has diversified a lot. People look for a lot more different categories.
"We all think that fresh is the big growth area for the business," he says.
"The import to Chinese consumers, everything is quite new. The whole import industry is in its infancy to the Chinese consumer."
Brand New Zealand is powerful in China, says NZ Trade and Enterprise's Shanghai trade commissioner Damon Paling. "If you look at the China perception of New Zealand seafood, it's iconic, because there's a perception that we've got these deep, dark coral-blue waters and if you want the best lobster, that is where the best lobster comes from," Paling says.
"If you look at some of the fast-moving consumer goods categories, there's more time and money invested into 'what's my China brand story', in what is the relevance of New Zealand from a provenance perspective and what's unique about me because I'm competing with all of these other countries."
Research shows Chinese consumers are more likely to buy a New Zealand product if they, a family member or friend have visited this country.
An Alibaba spokesman says the strong Chinese community in New Zealand has assisted Kiwi firms' success on the shopping platforms.
"[The] reason why New Zealand and Australia have become so successful is because of the strong Chinese communities in both of those markets," the spokesman says. "Those Chinese communities have played a really important role in building brand awareness back home by recommending different products ... and that's why I think Australia and New Zealand punch well above their weight."
Alibaba had humble beginnings, with Ma and the other 17 founders starting the business from Ma's 150 square metre Hangzhou apartment in 1999. The apartment is now Alibaba property, reserved for key personnel working on major or secret projects, and "hopefully help them to get some inspiration when they are working in the apartment", a company employee says.
When the business started, there was very little e-commerce infrastructure in China. In the 19 years since, the company has become one of the world's largest retailers. Alibaba's goal is to have 2 billion consumers on its platform by 2036, and to be a company that spans three centuries.
"The idea is: it was one year last century, 100 years this century and a year next century," a company spokesman says.
There are more than 100,000 brands selling on Alibaba's platform globally, 580 million active monthly mobile users and 525 million consumers.
Alibaba is now targeting US$1 trillion in gross merchandise volume by 2020, 24-hour delivery within China and 72-hour delivery elsewhere in the world.
Jack Ma believes the internet can level the playing field for small businesses. He also sees Alibaba as an economy, not just a business.
"When Jack talks about a company, he says a company really does things for profit for themselves whereas an economy does things for ... the benefit of society, and that's why he calls Alibaba an economy," a spokesman says.
"Alibaba's vision is to build the future infrastructure of commerce."
Ma's vision for new retail - Alibaba's current focus - is to combine online and offline shopping with entertainment and digital media to engage consumers in ways that hasn't been possible until now, with all of the technology available.
The retail giant has its finger in many pies including the entertainment and movie businesses, logistics, e-commerce and travel. It also has a 33 per cent stake in Ant Financial, which powers its digital wallet Alipay.
One thing it doesn't want is its own delivery network, as that would require 1 million employees, the company says. But it does have a controlling state in parcel tracking platform Cainiao, formerly known as China Smart Logistics.
Globalisation and world domination
Alibaba is pushing to have a larger presence outside China, and began rolling out its global strategy in 2015, opening offices around the world, including India, Japan, Germany and most recently Australia, which services New Zealand.
Alibaba hopes to have 2 billion consumers and tens of millions of business merchants on its platform by 2036.
"The three key opportunities we are focused on in New Zealand right now are global buy, global pay and global travel," says an Alibaba spokesman.
Global buy means having more New Zealand products available to purchase on platforms such as Tmall and global pay refers to its rollout of Alipay payment infrastructure to New Zealand merchants.
Christchurch Airport last April launched a project to deploy the technology to merchants in the South Island. About 3,000 businesses expressed interest in offering the payment method during that time.
As of January, there were 2000 merchants offering Alipay purchases in New Zealand, and 10,000 combined in both New Zealand and Australia.