But the company ended up spending a record amount in 2018 – something that the market was satisfied with. More than 278.8 billion yuan, or 41.6 billion dollars, were spent on product development, sales and marketing, general administration and revenue costs last year, an increase of 86.2 percent compared to the 2017 Renminbi, when the company scares 149.7 billion yuan.
"Ali appears more disciplined in the cost of operating costs, although the top management has indicated that they do not withdraw from investing in those strategic businesses," Nomura said in a research note released Thursday.
Those "strategic businesses" include what "Alibaba" calls "a new retailer" – a term it uses to describe the way it can integrate all its services from payments to logistics to brick and mortar stores in order to create a shopping "ecosystem".
"It's about how to integrate online and offline to transform itself into a whole digitized commercial world," Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang told CNBC in an interview last year.