Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has appointed Pier Smulders as the country manager for New Zealand - signalling its intention for expansion in the market.
Smulders, a New Zealander, will be the face of Alibaba in New Zealand and lead the internet company's small dedicated central Auckland team, working with local businesses trading on Alibaba e-commerce platforms and those using its payment technology Alipay. The company operates various retail businesses and subsidiaries, including AliExpress.
Smulders formally began in the role in January, transitioning from business development director, working out of company's Melbourne office. He is now tasked with building the business in New Zealand.
Prior to working for Alibaba, Smulders was chief executive of Christchurch-based media group Star Media.
Alibaba is one of the world's largest internet companies, worth about $630 billion (US$442b), handling around 55 million shopping orders each day - more business than eBay and Amazon combined.
It is not yet known exactly where in Auckland central Alibaba has set up its local office or how many people make up the team but Smulders said staff were working in the roles of business development.
"We have a small team that we are kind of starting and will grow that as we grow our business here," Smulders said speaking exclusively to the Herald.
He would not share further details or specific numbers.
"Where we are moving to is showing a commitment to the New Zealand market."
Around 700 New Zealand brands are sold through Alibaba's e-commerce network, largely on the Tmall and Tmall Global, though that number is growing.
Up until now Alibaba has been working out of its Australia New Zealand regional office located in Melbourne, established in early 2017. Maggie Zhou is managing director of both countries.
In addition to a local Auckland team, Alibaba is for the first time bringing its annual expo to New Zealand, hosting the event at Auckland's ASB Showgrounds next month, a move that Smulders said reflected how important New Zealand was for the e-commerce giant.
He said a greater New Zealand presence did not have anything to do with Alibaba's plans for a regional logistics hub in this country, part of the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) to help facilitate the movement of goods.
The company has been setting up hubs such as these around the world over the past few years.
"I am involved in that but that's not the primary focus of the New Zealand team - the New Zealand team is focused on exports and engaging high-value visitors to New Zealand."
An eWTP for this country was still under discussion, he said.
The local Alibaba team would be focused on servicing and growing the number of brands sold through the Alibaba network and those using its payment technology, Smulders said.
Around three thousand merchants in New Zealand use Alipay infrastructure, a mix of retail, service and tourism businesses.
"On the export side, we'll be helping existing businesses that are active on our platform increase their presence in the China market, find new customers and tell their brand stories in more effective ways.
"For new businesses it is about helping them to start their journey into China," he said. "What we're doing is creating more opportunity for New Zealand businesses."