Convergence: A case of Chinese online shopping website

Posted: September 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

(The website I discussed in this post is a Chinese website, so you may find difficult to explore freely. To make up a little bit, I’ll upload some snapshots from the website with brief English annotations in the following paragraphs. Hope it could help a little), founded in 2003, is nowadays the dominant online shopping website in China. Taobao is not the first, yet it is the most influencing one. And it does change people’s shopping pattern in China to a great extent, especially among young generations.

 Taobao is a pretty good case where the line between media production and consumption blurs. Most of the people who visit an online shopping website are either buyers or sellers. And in Taobao’s case, a big proportion of website visitors are both buyers and sellers. Since establishing, Taobao has been offering free listing service to individuals, which means everyone can open an online store on Taobao without paying any “rent”. (Taobao also offer services to business entities and manufacturers to practice online B to C and wholesale, and the non-individual business need to pay a certain amount of fee). This policy encourages a lot of people to open their own store online, selling things from luxury brands to home-made products, basically any you can imagine. (This Taobao phenomenon was reported by The New York Times in 2009, and here is the link to the article). The role of Taobao, the ought-to-be media content producer in traditional lens, is more like a “housekeeper” in this convergent practice, most of the time organizing and managing the contents created by users rather than producing one.

While the individual sellers are busy building their fancy online stores, the buyers and other website users are actively participating in the various interactions. For example, Taobao has a forum where people can share online shopping experiences, learn selling skills, “show off” their purchases, etc.

Early this year, Taobao launched a website function called “Taobao fitting room”, which allows users to “try on” clothes while making shopping decisions online. This interactive advertisement is a good attempt to engage and attract more online shoppers as well as to provide a new platform for the sellers to showcase their products.   


Taobao also has its own instant messaging tool, called “Taobao Wangwang”, which allows the website users to communicate with each other instantly and conveniently. Some of the sellers are 24 hours online (or cell phone online) on “Taobao Wangwang”, so that they can give instant response when a customer or a potential buyer has any question.

Taobao itself has launched some campaigns and events to increase awareness and the level of engagement. “Tao girl”, a recent campaign, is looking for online store models among the female website users. People who want to be a “Tao girl” can build a personal website on Taobao with photos and other information, and the sellers may contact them if they think the person is a suitable model for their online stores.

  1. luckymaggie says:

    I had some bad experience on this online shopping website because the items I got were so different from what were displayed by sellers… Shopping on is not the same as shopping on any official websites like or, thus I find it is difficult for me to totally trust the information offered by individuals. However, I agree on is a fantastic place, especially for young girls, as it is a great choice for them to “tao” (means search) something both in good qualification and in an ideal price. From a broad perspective, it is the consumers that facilitate the success of taobao, and this perfectly matches the soul of convergence culture: it “serves both as a mechanism to increase avenue and further the agenda of industry”. To cut down some online shopping risk, the transaction tool “Taobao Wangwang” as you mentioned is an effective design as the buyers can communicate with sellers directly by asking related questions or requesting more detailed pictures of the target commodity.

  2. I like your screen captures!

    The New York Times article makes it clear that a lot of people are setting up their own shops on Taobao and making money. However, I have some questions about how it works:

    1. How do people pay for what they ordered? Do they use a credit card? Is it safe?

    2. How do people receive the goods they bought? Is it a shipping service, like FedEx? If so, doesn’t that make the goods more expensive?

  3. joneelauriel says:

    As an online shopper, I find this article and website absolutely fascinating. I’m not sure there are a lot of websites out there that have the same functionality as this. Especially the option to try on clothes in a virtual fitting room. Although, identity theft is a major concern for me so I usually only buy from trusted sites and from sellers with high ratings. Does this site have some type of secure payment option such as “paypal”? Also, I do appreciate the fact that “amateurs” so to speak can create online stores of there products and get there careers started so to speak. The interactive nature and flow of information definitely causes this website to fit within the converging, interactive and creative trend of media.

  4. Sijia says:

    Q1: Does this site have some type of secure payment option such as “paypal”?
    A: Yes, Taobao does offer something as “paypal” for shoppers and sellers to practice safe transactions.

    Q2: How do people receive the goods they bought? Is it a shipping service, like FedEx? If so, doesn’t that make the goods more expensive?

    A2: Sellers use various shipping services to sending goods to buyers. There will be a delivery fee, just like Amazon and many other online shopping websites. But within China mainland, the delivery fee is low, and one can always choose to shop in an online store which is geographically closer, so that the delivery fee will be less. And if you are a frequent customer or a large spender in a certain store, the owner will probably give you a bargain or offer free shipping.

  5. aflaten says:

    “Taobao Wangwang” is a really clever feature, and it seems like something that is so obvious in hindsight! I’m really surprised that places like Amazon don’t have a feature like this. (Then again, maybe they do and I’m just completely missing it.)

    After reading your blog and the NY Times article you linked, I can’t say I’m surprised that so many people use this site. After all, it’s hard to argue against free service. What strikes me is the range of users Taobao attracts… it can be anywhere from someone who just wants to sell stuff on the side to someone looking to construct an entire business from the ground up. I was going to ask how they make any profit, but from the NY Times article, it seems they are funded entirely through ads? Are these ads from companies outside Taobao or from other Taobao users?

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