The new investigation could be a much bigger deal. China’s antimonopoly law allows for a maximum fine of 10 percent of a company’s sales from the previous year, which in Alibaba’s case would be billions of dollars.
In its brief statement announcing the inquiry on Thursday, the State Administration for Market Regulation named only one specific form of anticompetitive conduct by Alibaba that it would look into: exclusivity agreements, which in Chinese are described using a phrase that translates as “choose one of two.”
Large e-commerce sites in China have for years been accused of blocking merchants who sell on their platform from selling on others, particularly during big sales events such as the annual Singles’ Day. One of Alibaba’s main rivals, JD.com, has fought the company in court over the practice.