Women entrepreneurs are building successful e-commerce businesses.
By Annie Xu (General Manager, Alibaba U.S.)

Recently, some data crossed my radar that makes me think American businesswomen are embracing global online trading.

Alibaba research shows that the number of U.S.-based women registering on the site for e-commerce increased by 72% between 2008 and 2011.

U.S female users were the biggest constituency across 12 key markets studied. More than 4.2 million women in the U.S. used Alibaba in December 2011, compared to 2.6M in India and 1.3M in the U.K.

Why are female entrepreneurs embracing e-trading: finding suppliers via the Internet in countries around the world to make the products they want to sell?

Many of the female Alibaba customers I meet are going online to find people who can turn their inventions into reality. In my experience women have a knack for identifying products that will meet day-to day needs. Those product ideas translate into gaps in the market that they decide to fill by striking up partnerships with manufacturers in countries such as China, India and Malaysia.

It could be that the flexibility and convenience offered by trading online is particularly suited to women, many of whom are launching and running startups while juggling other responsibilities too, be it child rearing or studies.

I recently talked to Jane Ivanov, for example, one of our top customers, who describes herself as “the quintessential businesswoman of today”. Jane, whose business, Eve Alexander, makes stylish maternity and nursing lingerie, has two children and splits her time between Miami, FL, and Moscow in the Soviet Union. And she manages her global business around her kids’ schedules.

Jane told me she works when her kids are at school, when they are asleep, all weekend, and when her husband is not on a business trip. She thinks the other moms at her kids’ school probably think of her as the typical soccer mom doing nothing other than swim-meets and playdates. In reality, she’s a full-blown businesswoman who manages manufacturing, warehousing, and IT, and has people working all over the world for her, with suppliers in the U.S., China, Colombia, and Israel. As a globetrotting mother with a full schedule, Jane says she couldn’t have achieved any of it without the Internet.

Jensen Wheeler Wolfe saw her business opportunity when teaching yoga at her daughter’s New York City pre-school, and realizing adult yoga mats were too big, both for the kids and the limited space that was available. Jensen goes online to source the biodegradable, recyclable and hypoallergenic materials for the mats she sells through The Little Yoga Mat Company.

Although the U.S. is where increases in female users are the highest, the trend is not limited to the U.S. Alibaba’s data show that there has been a healthy growth in the proportion of female registered users to its site in Australia, Malaysia, Peru, and the U.K. Taiwan has the highest level of female registered users compared with the other markets studied, and India showed a first-time increase in the proportion of female registered users over the past three years.

So, is e-commerce making it increasingly possible for women to launch and run successful businesses? It is certainly easier to trade online with factories around the world than getting on an airplane, maybe with kids in tow, to visit with them on the ground. Or is the availability of global partners as critical? And do our figures suggest American female entrepreneurs are leading the pack?

Do you know of female entrepreneurs who are building successful businesses here using e-commerce?

If so, what’s their motivation and what exciting products are they putting on the market? I’d love to hear about them.

Photo credit: William Ward on Flickr.
About the guest blogger: Annie Jie Xu is General Managerof Alibaba Americas, responsible for the operation of the Americas office located in Santa Clara, California. She joined Alibaba Americas in 2000 and has been a leading force in its direction since day one. She manages a dedicated team of marketing and business development professionals as well as a product development division and customer care program. She is a native of Shanghai, China and holds a B.S. in Economics from UC Berkeley.