Alibaba's retail revenue cracked $20 billion last quarter, but coronavirus could threaten future sales performance

The e-tailer announced that its core commerce segment brought in $20.3 billion in its fiscal Q3 2020 (ended December 31, 2019) - outperforming its recent high of $15 billion from the comparable quarter the year prior.

Alibaba Core COmmerce Revenue

The segment, which includes Alibaba's retail business in China and abroad as well as related services like logistics and customer management, accounted for 88% of the firm's total revenue and grew 38% year-over-year (YoY), matching Alibaba's overall annual revenue growth for the quarter.

This does represent a slight deceleration from the 40% YoY increase the firm posted last quarter and in the comparable period the year prior - but given the immense amount of revenue it brings in during its fiscal Q3 because of Singles' Day, its tentpole sales holiday, 38% annual growth is still impressive.

The e-tailer's performance on Singles' Day and its continued innovation appear to be key drivers of its performance.

Alibaba expanded Singles' Day's reach in 2019, further establishing it as the biggest global e-commerce sales day and as a major event for the company. Alibaba brought in $38.4 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV) during the annual sales event, which takes place on November 11.

Although other merchants and marketplaces also take advantage of the event, Alibaba has been able to lead the way because it pioneered Singles' Day, leading its sales during the event to dwarf e-commerce revenue from Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And Alibaba is still growing the event: Its GMV rose 26% YoY and over 200,000 brands, including 22,000 international brands, took part in it. So, Singles' Day may be a driving force behind Alibaba's success in the years to come as more merchants and consumers join in.

The company is also developing new features that are likely helping its performance and could set it up for future success. Taobao Live, which sees merchants and "key opinion leaders" use a live broadcast to market to consumers, saw its GMV and monthly active users increase 100% YoY in December 2019.

Meanwhile, Alibaba also debuted a new delivery service from Sun Art Retail Group, which Alibaba previously invested in, to offer consumers speedy delivery for food and other products. By growing and launching new channels for sales, Alibaba may be able to continue growing its retail business at a fast pace.

Despite Alibaba's promising performance, the coronavirus outbreak in China could weaken its sales in the short term. Issues like limited delivery capacity and closed restaurants that are a result of the outbreak are expected to impact parts of Alibaba's business, per Reuters.

These problems won't necessarily damage the e-tailer's long-term prospects, but they could depress Alibaba's retail performance in the next few quarters as it works to raise up its delivery capabilities and selection to its normal levels. And Alibaba isn't alone in potentially facing fewer sales because of the outbreak: Merchants like Starbucks' businesses in China are also at risk, as are firms that rely on demand from Chinese tourists.

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