Update: More information from the media event has been added.
Already, the Taobao marketplace has signed up 280,000 people in Singapore, says Daphne Lee, director of Taobao International Business. She adds that most of the growth “has been generated through organic interest of e-commerce platforms”. Meanwhile, Malaysia has 210,000 registered Taobao users.
A dedicated hotline for Singapore residents has been set up. While Taobao is predominantly in Mandarin Chinese, a dual-language registration page will be available next month. First-time users can also access an English quick-start guide.
A translation feature is now available for major languages in Southeast Asia. However, it applies only to links and navigational elements, not product descriptions, which is harder to work on since Taobao hosts millions of merchants. Currency conversion is only available at the payments page.
The website emphasizes different products from the main Taobao entity, with home decorations, wedding items, female fashion, and consumer electronics placed front and center.
On the backend, Taobao has also launched a platform for its logistic partners to offer the International Parcel Forwarding Service (IPFS) in Singapore, just as it does in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. IPFS enables merchants on the platform to send their goods to buyers who are overseas.
This means that buyers in Singapore would no longer need to rely on daigou services, which are third-party, unofficial intermediaries that export goods from Taobao in China to other countries. Finally, the marketplace also supports consolidated shipping, which means a buyer’s goods gets transported as a package instead of individually. While slower, this method cuts down on shipping costs, possibly up to 50 percent.
Alipay comes to SEA too
Taobao has set up a Singapore office to push its regional expansion. It will be promoting online payments through Alipay, the e-commerce giant’s payment gateway. It is already offering the Alipay Purchase Card, which enables purchases without using credit cards, through AXS terminals in Singapore.
On the Taobao website, users must use an Alipay account to pay for goods as PayPal is not supported. Alipay accepts Visa, Mastercard, and JCB. Singapore users can also link their DBS bank account to the payment gateway.
Outside of China, Taobao has already expanded to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, it has 1.4 million registered users.
Taobao is owned by Alibaba Group, which altogether has some 500 million registered users on all its e-shopping sites. Alibaba generated $170 billion in sales last year, outpacing Amazon’s $61 billion (PDF link).
Both still cannot compare to brick-and-mortar retailer Walmart, which came in at $447 billion last year, signaling that e-commerce has much room for growth.
Taobao’s launch ceremony in Singapore was attended by guests Zheng Chao, minister counsellor of the China Embassy, Jayson Goh, executive director of infocomms and media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, and Eddie Wu, senior vice-president of Alibaba.
According to Wu, Alibaba’s interest beyond China was sparked by demand for Taobao-hosted products from places like Canada, Brazil, and Southeast Asia. Winter clothing, it turned out, was one of the top product categories for Southeast Asian users.
Heading business development in the region is Kelvin Lee, who is based in Singapore.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff and Steven Millward)