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Taobao: China’s Super Ecommerce App

Evolving the digital marketplace to become the gateway for shopping, entertainment and entrepreneurs

As the largest ecommerce destination in China, Taobao 淘宝网 is a must-know for brands looking to venture into the market. Founded in 2003 by Alibaba, its name translates as ‘looking for treasure’. Often described as a one-stop super app for shopping, the Gross Merchandise Value for Taobao already reached ¥3.387 trillion in 2020 - according to Alibaba - a number that’s doubled since 2015. It’s the go-to ecommerce destination for shoppers in China and hosts a large user base that spans age, gender, and geographic boundaries. In May 2021, the platform boasted over 100 million mobile Monthly Active Users and for the financial year of 2021 the Annual Active Users on Taobao - combined with sister platform, Tmall - reached 811 million, an increase of 85 million from March 2020 alone.


Platform Highlights

Taobao’s popularity is in large part down to its straightforward user experience - for both consumers and merchants. It features over 2 billion listings of products and services from individual sellers and businesses, not dissimilar to eBay or Amazon - but for the Chinese market. Businesses can have their own ‘storefronts’ on Taobao Marketplace where they sell anything from fresh food, products from independent craftsmen and branded merchandise from global brands including Disney and L’Oreal. You can also use the app to book flights and hotels, order takeaway food and send virtual gifts to friends.

Taobao allows people to shop a variety of products and services quickly, easily, and securely. Throughout their journey, customers are continuously updated with personalised recommendations thanks to the platform’s effective algorithm, creating shopping experiences that are accurately tailored to them. Users pay for items instantly via Alipay in their virtual wallets which streamlines the whole process. After purchase, orders can be tracked for the entirety of their journey by both sender and receiver.

Taobao homepage and designated 520 (Valentine’s Day) offers page.
Taobao homepage and designated 520 (Valentine’s Day) offers page.

Approaching As A Vendor

Designed with the vendor in mind, merchants can create and host storefronts on Taobao Marketplace free of charge, a feature that benefits the majority of sellers who are either individuals or independent companies. Taobao also allows sellers to communicate with and sell directly to their customers, cutting out middlemen and any additional costs.

Having a Taobao store means having a presence on China’s most popular ecommerce platform. It helps legitimise new brands in the market and offers an additional gateway to the customer, creating more awareness and traffic. Beyond that, Taobao is an invaluable tool offering insights into current shopping trends and tastes of consumers across a wide range of categories. A presence on this C2C platform positions brands in front of buyers actively searching across this open marketplace - the home for small businesses, young creators and entrepreneurs.


Platform Trends for 2021

Shopping & Entertainment Combined:

Taobao’s popularity is also down to its ability to provide an entertaining shopping experience, something that sets it apart from competitors. Within the app itself, there are interactive features that encourage greater consumer engagement with brands. These include virtual product try-ons, short-form video content and social interaction with fellow shoppers via Weitao. Weitao is the designated social eCommerce platform built into the app. It’s home to a range of content including product reviews, store ratings and celebrity features and is the destination for brands to post new-in products and latest brand campaigns.

Longchamp official Taobao store, the interactive game built within the official Coach store and the Jo Malone official page with 520 livestream on social eCommerce platform, Weitao.
Longchamp official Taobao store, the interactive game built within the official Coach store and the Jo Malone official page with 520 livestream on social eCommerce platform, Weitao.

Livestreaming:

The biggest trend for 2021 across China’s digital apps livestreaming. One of the fastest evolving sales formats in China, Taobao is no exception from the list of apps pushing the technology. ‘Taobao Live’ is already built-in to the app and offers immediate access to product livestreaming, 24 hours a day. Covering food, fashion and travel, livestreaming allows businesses, individual sellers and KOLs to broadcast live to audiences, market the latest products and engage with both current and potential customers.

The feature was only introduced in 2018, but the app is already reaping the rewards of the technology. By December 2020, the gross volume of goods generated by this alone had grown by 150% YoY from 2018 and achieved a GMV of $60 million. In 2020, on average 350,000 hours of livestream content was viewed on Taobao Live every day and in a survey conducted by C2 Global in March 2021, consumers voted for Taobao as their livestreaming channel of choice for shopping, coming in top over JD.com, Pinduoduo, and Douyin. The app’s influence plays a significant role in generating sales during China’s key shopping festivals throughout the year. During Singles Day 2020, Taobao Live generated a whopping $7.5 million in sales in the first 30 minutes.

And the platform has extended the success of the technology to projects with purpose. In 2019 Alibaba launched Taobao Live Rural, a program designed to aid farmers in rural areas of China. Livestreaming has carved out a new method for people to sell their produce, something which was particularly important amidst the outbreak of the pandemic. By the end of 2020, the program enlisted nearly 200,000 farmers from across China who are using this to promote, sell and distribute their produce. Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer based in Hunan Province, used Taobao Live Rural to target younger customers through livestreams, educating his audience on tea culture and as a result drive sales in tea leaves grown on his farm.

Tea farmer Huang Wensheng utilising Taobao Live Rural to promote tea produced on his farm based in Hunan Province.
Tea farmer Huang Wensheng utilising Taobao Live Rural to promote tea produced on his farm based in Hunan Province.

With livestreaming, short-form video and the social commerce forum, Weitao, Taobao is a unique shopping destination for the Chinese consumer. Tailor-made feeds provide users with a bespoke shopping experience that keeps them coming back and at the same time supports a variety of independent businesses.

The app offers valuable insights into current shopping trends in China across a wide range of demographics. For any business considering a presence on this platform, doing so will only increase access to current and prospective buyers. Ultimately, Taobao places businesses in prime positioning on the market, providing direct access to the Chinese consumer looking for their next piece of treasure.

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