Think Alibaba is just for connecting manufacturing and bulk suppliers with dealers from all around the world?
Alibaba has taken that middleman role a step further with the release of Alibaba Passport (APASS), an invite-only rewards club for the site's wealthy shoppers. APASS was formally launched in 2012 but has only recently gained popularity.
APASS combines together Facebook, Amazon Prime, and the American Express Black Card into one, with its 100,000 strong members treated to luxurious trips and personal services as the company's way of saying "Thank You" for the members' brand loyalty.
Alibaba only asks for one thing in exchange: to let other people know of the company's excellent perks and services, encouraged through blog posts and personal referrals.
But APASS comes at a high cost.
Meng Cui Yi, a 33-year old restaurant owner, is an APASS member that has spent close to $90,000 on Alibaba's site. Based in Shanghai, she almost had troubles fitting in her apartment purchases made during Alibaba's Singles' Day Sale, an annual event that draws in a large crowd of heavy spenders.
As an invite-only club, APASS maintains its exclusivity through its high membership criteria: a customer must have ordered at least $15,000 in one year on the Alibaba site; and should have had a range of positive feedbacks from sellers interacted with. From these two determinants, Alibaba picks top customers which they would want to invite in the premier club.
Once in, members are treated with utmost care. Just this September, 10 APASS members were treated to a nine-day all-expenses paid vacation to Italy. They stayed in five-star hotels, and got to visit the Maserati factory, La Perla's premium lingerie store, and the prestigious Mezzacorona's vineyards as part of their tour. The entire trip was put on live cast on the Tmall app and Youku Tudou, another Alibaba video site acquisition.
While APASS has been costing a lot of investment for Alibaba, Alibaba adviser Duncan Clark says, "It's very much worth their (Alibaba's) while to take care of the high rollers."
APASS is Alibaba's new strategy into encouraging heavy spenders based in China to maintain brand loyalty, given that the company is currently fighting against the economic influx, the recent wave of anti-Chinese manufacturing sentiments, and the company's biggest emerging competitor JD.com.
Alibaba's efforts clearly are not in vain though. Another APASS member, Sukin Su, says of her experience, "I tell everyone why don't you all shop on Tmall (an online retail site owned by Alibaba)... It's fast, and if you have any problems they can solve it for you.