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Alibaba Faces Mobile Threat as IPO Approaches

Alibaba Group, which filed to go public Tuesday, has its fingers in everything from the private car service Lyft to China’s largest payment processor. But its long-term prospects largely depend on one thing: maintaining its dominant market share in mobile e-commerce.

Alibaba currently has about about 75% of the Chinese mobile commerce market, according to Alibaba’s IPO filing. Mobile spending in China has been growing at a remarkable 50% a quarter, reaching $27 billion in 2013, according to data compiled by investment firm GGV Capital.

But Alibaba faces competition on four fronts: first and foremost, from a partnership between and Alibaba’s archrival, Tencent Holdings Limited; second, from discount brand retailers Vipshop Holdings and Jumei; third, from a smattering of more narrowly focused startups like fashion sites Meilishuo and Koudai; and finally, from the mobile phone company and retailer Xiaomi.

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“If you don’t have 60, 70% market share it’s hard to command leverage over suppliers,” says Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital. Chinese consumers are demanding, he says. “Tomorrow you may lose half your market.”