Six key features of Taobao - Alibaba's online shopping platform

Xixi You

APAC Strategy Director

3rd September 2018

~ 7 min read

Taobao Marketplace, which was founded by Alibaba Group in 2003, has since developed into China’s online shopping juggernaut, and has also grown to become the eighth most visited site in the world. As of March 2021, its monthly active users has reached 792 million, ranking at the top amongst Chinese, and global, ecommerce platforms. 

Similar to eBay and Amazon, Taobao provides a platform for customer-to-customer (C2C) retail, so big brands, small businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals are all able to open their own online shops using the platform. With Taobao’s vast user base and artificial intelligence (AI) backed big data abilities, it has become a must-use platform for overseas brands when building their online presence in China.

Taobao's comprehensive nature and extensive list of features are perfectly tailored towards Chinese customers. In this article, we outline six key features of this ecommerce giant.

1. Seamless live chat customer support

Each Taobao user has an account which allows them to freely communicate with sellers. For any questions regarding a product, users can simply click the message button in order to speak with a sales assistant. From a sales assistant's point of view, when a customer starts a conversation, the message page will automatically create a link to the product they were viewing previously, helping to guide the assistant to the specific product and begin a conversation with the customer. The system will automatically match and connect you to one after clicking on the message button. With bigger shops, there might even be hundreds of sales assistants available online.

When a shopper initiates a conversation, sellers will usually send them a list of the most frequently asked questions, such as ‘what’s the minimum spend to get free shipping?’, ‘when will my order be shipped?’, ‘what’s the return policy?’ and so on. If the user still has other questions, they can simply submit their query and wait for a response. Sales assistants on Taobao typically reply within seconds and are usually extremely helpful and efficient. You can even tell them your height and weight for advice on what size clothing to buy. 

Taobao sellers have been known for providing excellent customer support, like offering personalised product and size recommendations, as well as an extremely good service attitude. The chatbot/live chat feature can also be used for upselling, cross-selling or remarketing. It is typically a top priority for brands to deploy enough live chat agents and ensure a high standard of customer service is being provided on the storefront.

(Data from iResearch, graph by Cinda)

2. Smooth real-time order tracking

In Taobao, every single product is trackable once shipped, and users can always negotiate shipping company preferences with the sellers. Although most online marketplaces now have order tracking systems, Taobao has further optimised its tracking feature in order to provide a seamless user experience. By simply clicking the “tracking” button, customers will be directed to a digital map with the exact location of the parcel, followed by a clear timeline stating when and where an order has been. It will also give customers a fairly accurate estimated time for final delivery.

The tracking information is updated in real-time to keep customers posted on their package. When a parcel is delivered, the Taobao app will also let customers know through notifications or sometimes short message service messages. The smooth Taobao tracking system ensures an overall better customer experience.

3. Customer reviews & seller rating system

Within every single product page, there is a ‘comment’ section where customers can post comments, images or even videos to describe and share their shopping experience. In general, all Taobao sellers’ store ratings consist of three metrics:

  • Description - how well the product description matches the actual product
  • Service - the customer service quality
  • Logistics - the shipping speed and service

Each metric is scored on a scale of one to five. The ratings are calculated based on each successful transaction, as well as customer feedback. Alongside the three metrics, the system will also show their relative performance against the industry average score, all of which will be calculated into a store's overall good-rating score. These metrics can be important decision-making references for online shoppers.

Taobao seller rating system

Customers are given complete freedom to express their satisfaction or disappointment with a product, purchase or customer service experience. Sellers can also utilise this function to respond to customers’ comments and feedback.

Not only do Taobao users heavily rely on this section to make purchase decisions, but the platform also actively encourages users to share their shopping experiences by rewarding them with platform tokens when they leave feedback on a store. Also, shoppers are given the opportunity to share feedback on their purchases even after several months. This is a great feature for customers who buy products that promise long-term effects, such as teeth whitening or weight loss products.

Equally, the negative reviews will inflict long-term harm on the stores’ rating and reputation. Hence, this rating mechanism motivates the sellers to provide better products and services.

4. Rich marketing opportunities

Apart from being a marketplace for consumers, Taobao has become an important marketing channel for sellers and brands with the support of Alibaba’s marketing and data management platform – Alimama. The platform allows sellers to leverage search ads (based on keyword search rankings), in-feed ads and display ads, which can be delivered in the form of photos, graphics, videos and livestreams across Taobao and other platforms under Alibaba Group.

Alimama has the ability to track users across Alibaba’s ecosystem, developing a thorough understanding of users' journeys and shopping behaviours. This enables brands to easily serve personalised promotional ads and product ads to their target audience. When a user opens their Taobao app, they will always see their homepage full of recently viewed products, as well as a collection of similar products that they may potentially like.

Alibaba business ecosystem anatomy

This algorithm-based marketing platform can help businesses boost brand awareness and sales within a short period of time, especially newer brands entering the Chinese market. However, the downside is that when all of the sellers are bidding against each other for quality traffic, the marketing expenses can become too high to bear for smaller businesses.

5. Social commerce features within the app

Like the meaning of Taobao’s name in Chinese, “search for treasure,” implies, this platform used to be a search-based ecommerce platform. However, with the boom of social commerce, Taobao has also made strategic moves to introduce its built-in social commerce feature “guangguang” earlier this year. This is Taobao's shopping share community.

Within the content feed, users can see lifestyle photos and short videos, mostly focussed on fashion, beauty, food, home decor and travel. As of April 2021, it has attracted more than two million content creators, among which 0.3 million are key opinion leaders (KOLs). While some posts are directly attached with product hyperlinks, about 30% of all current posts are content only.

Taobao aims to use appealing content from shoppers and influencers to draw in new users and boost product or brand discovery. By integrating a social media experience on Taobao, brands are able to leverage influencers and content marketing to grow engagement with customers and improve its brand equity for the long run.

6. Taobao Live: a booming sales feature in the post-pandemic world

Taobao Live, the first live streaming shopping feature on any Chinese ecommerce platform, has been fully fueled by the lockdown restrictions beginning in early 2020. Nowadays, it has become an indispensable tool for brands to drive online sales. According to Alibaba, Taobao Live’s gross merchandise value (GMV) exceeded RMB 400 billion (approximately GBP 45 billion) last year.

For new brands entering the Chinese market, Taobao Live is an efficient way to establish their brand presence and bring in new customers. On the other hand, live streaming is also gradually changing Chinese consumer behaviour. Instead of reading long product description pages, Chinese customers now expect sellers to showcase all aspects of their products while answering the questions in real-time during streaming sessions. Moreover, the product hyperlinks displayed on livestream, limited discount vouchers or gifts, and real-time engagement all contribute to quicker purchase decisions.

Leveraging the power of KOLs in live stream sessions is another effective approach for brands to reach more potential customers. Taobao has introduced AliV-task, a content service platform under Alibaba, to help integrate content marketing, KOL partnerships, and data insights for brands, to help them deliver efficient co-marketing campaigns and business performance. Utilising features like Taobao Live and AliV-task can help brands streamline their content marketing strategies in an effective, efficient way.

The Taobao features introduced in this article only provide a glimpse of Taobao’s full marketing capabilities. To learn more about the available Taobao marketing techniques and how to craft an effective marketing strategy for your store, please contact us for a customised marketing plan.

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