Alibaba sold an astonishing $550 billion of merchandise in just one year: Chief marketing officer

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On June 8, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba drew "gasps of wow" from investors as it presented forecasted sales growth of 45 to 49 percent this year, 10 percentage points ahead of analysts' expectations.

And today, Chris Tung, its chief marketing officer, told an audience of advertising and media executives – not CFOs – that it sold an enormous $550 billion of merchandise in the last fiscal year, and served more than 500 million Chinese consumers alone.

Tung claimed that the business is the largest retailer in the world, ahead of Walmart, and prefers to be known as a marketplace connecting sellers and buyers, rather than simply an e-commerce platform. Often called the "Amazon of China," he added that it's different from the U.S. company, because it doesn't own or sell products.

He explained to an audience at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, that local Chinese brands, ecommerce and mobile are the driving forces behind its increasing sales.

"At the turn of the century, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was the growth area, but after 15 years, take China as an example, China is now sitting at the core of those emerging opportunities," he said.

Tung noted three trends for growth: the uprising of local Chinese brands, which now have the manufacturing capability and similar quality as larger competitors; the "non-stop" growth of e-commerce, and the "uprising" of smartphones.

Alibaba sees 90 percent of its traffic and more than 80 percent of transactions come from mobile. "It's no longer a cool way to reach your consumer, it's the remote control of the consumer's life. It's a magical one, it links online and offline and makes transactions happen, it's really a business driver nowadays," Tung added.

Those consumers are rich pickings for advertisers, with Alibaba making an estimated $11 billion in advertising revenue from mobile 2016, according to eMarketer, which is just over 40 percent of all money brands spent on mobile advertising that year.

Alibaba is sponsor of Cannes Lions' innovation stream, and the festival will host a China day for the first time on Tuesday June 20, to showcase Chinese creativity to what has been a traditionally western audience.

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