Taobao aiming to go social

06 August 2009

BEIJING: Taobao, China's biggest online auction site, is adding social networking features reminiscent of those used on Facebook and Twitter to its main portal, as it seeks to enter a fast-growing sector of the country's web market.

According to iResearch, the consultancy, eCommerce spending in the world's most populous nation reached 46.7 billion yuan ($6.8bn; €4.7bn; £4.0bn) in the first quarter of this year, almost double the total from the same period in 2008. 

More than 75% of these sales were made via Taobao, which had some 120 million unique users in Q1, a third of China's web audience, and all of who will be able to access its new social networking tools.

Alongside using a "feed" similar to that employed by Twitter – and in addition to its instant messaging service that is already in operation – the current "beta" version of Taobao includes a range of applications.

Operating under the title Taojianghu, the test site aims to tie the company's eCommerce activities to a number of interactive features similar to those used by sites such as Facebook.

For example, it allows users to "bookmark" goods they are interested in buying and ask the opinion of other members regarding each item, such as by holding a vote among their "friends" as to which product they should purchase.

Benjamin Joffe, ceo of +8*, a digital strategy and research company, said the introduction of these features "will feel very natural because commerce is what Taobao is all about in the first place. They are just adding social features to do it better."

People who regularly use Taobao's social media platform will also receive "credits" which can be redeemed against acquisitions made from certain traders on the web property.

Another means via which they can gain these credits is through becoming an "expert" in a particular product category, posting reviews and information that their fellow users mark as being useful.
Mi Fengtao, team head of development for Taojianghu, argued that "Taobao users have many demands outside of making online purchases." 

In the future, it could add applications that recommend items to members, or services that are beyond its current area of operation, such as allowing people to book cinema tickets.

Taobao also plans to develop a system that fulfils a similar purpose to LinkedIn, the business-orientated social network, for its B2B trading site.

Data sourced from PC World; additional content by WARC staff