Alibaba tests generative AI tools new tech arms race heats up

Alibaba tests generative AI tools new tech arms race heats up

Alibaba tests generative AI tools new tech arms race heats up
Alibaba offices in Beijing. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Alibaba Group Holding has started testing new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools for merchants on Taobao and Tmall via a website called Huiwa, as the Chinese e-commerce giant leverages the technology to boost sales at its main domestic retail platforms.

The generative AI tools provided by Huiwa, operated by Alibaba subsidiary Hangzhou Lianfan Information Technology, enable merchants to create both text and graphics content. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

A merchant, for example, can input a brief description of a product, which prompts the tool to create customised content for marketing and promotion. Generative AI are algorithms, such as those used by ChatGPT, that turn out new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations and videos based on specific prompts.

Huiwa's tools, which are now being tested by selected online merchants, are also capable of producing images based on which angles and backgrounds for a product are required by users.

Alibaba had no comment on the cost of using these AI tools or when it would be widely released.

The Hangzhou-based company's latest AI push reflects a new tech arms race in China's e-commerce sector, as Taobao and Tmall fend off increased competition from domestic rival and younger shopping platforms, such as PDD Holdings' Pinduoduo and ByteDance-owned Douyin.

The move comes a few months after Alibaba chief executive Eddie Wu Yongming reaffirmed the 24-year-old tech giant's AI commitment, transforming the company into an open technology platform that supports adoption in various industries.

In January, Alibaba's main e-commerce unit Taobao and Tmall Group (TTG) said AI models are being employed to transform Dianxiaomi, a customer service chatbot, to enhance seller-consumer interaction. The updated Dianxiaomi will be made available to all merchants by June, according to TTG.

Merchants on Alibaba's Chinese online shopping platforms, however, are still evaluating how AI tools could potentially help their businesses.

"The cost of hiring a foreign model for a one-day shoot is about 3,000 yuan (US$417), so the AI tool might be a good way to reduce cost if the output is good," said Chang Li, an online merchant based in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, who primarily sells cosmetics and toys to Germany and Thailand.

"But if it [somehow] reduces customers' purchase, [then] it may end up being more costly than hiring a real model."

In Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, online merchant Ye Jiawen said consumers are very sensitive to images of products promoted by human models on Taobao, which means that images perceived as too embellished could backfire [on a vendor].

"You have to be 120% sure that AI-generated images will have the same effect as a real model's pictures [used for promotion]," Ye said.

Alibaba's cloud unit unveils new industry-specific tools built on its AI model

Other domestic e-commerce services providers have also ramped up their own AI efforts. in July last year started training its chatbot called ChatRhino, known as Yanxi in Chinese, using its own large language model (LLM) - the technology behind ChatGPT and similar AI services.

ByteDance has also advanced the AI initiatives at Douyin on the mainland and TikTok for overseas markets. Ocean Engine, a digital marketing platform under Douyin, launched an AI content-creation platform called Jichuang late last year. This can generate product descriptions and scripts for short videos, as well as virtual humans to host live-streaming campaigns.

Budget shopping platform Pinduoduo has intensified recruitment of AI talent, offering salaries of up to 60,000 yuan per month for roles including LLM developers.

Do you like the content of this article?