How now, Taobao?

How now, Taobao?

Once known for cheap, dodgy products, the online 'mall' is looking to improve its reputation

Would you shop at a mall that has shops with dodgy goods for sale? A place where, if you tried to get your money back for a bad quality item you bought, you couldn't?

Online, such a "mall" exists. It's called Taobao, and, apart from the odd complaint, Hong Kong shoppers love it. Taobao, a mainland site run by the Alibaba Group, is where they can get everything from high fashion to cartoon stickers.

Natasha Lau, a 16-year-old student at South Island School, likes Taobao because she can get what she wants with just a few clicks on her computer. "The payment method is easy, and the choice of goods is so wide. Most of the time, people can buy stuff they want because there are so many choices," she says.

Veronica Lynn, 14, who goes to Peddie School, said Taobao has become an indispensable part of her daily life. "I get everything on Taobao, from utensils to live pet frogs," she says. "It's such a convenient way to get whatever you desire."

Taobao, founded in 2003, is trying to improve its reputation because it also offers low-quality and pirated goods for far less than people would pay at name-brand stores. So it has its critics, too.

Gifthy Chan, 18, who attends TWGHs Lee Ching Dea Memorial College, says it's unreliable. "There are so many shops selling fake products, and refunds are not always promised in case you want to return products that are not what you expected," she says. "I had a bad shopping experience on Taobao. The clothes I received were totally different to what it showed on the shop's website, and the quality was terrible. What made it worse was that all my complaints were ignored by the shop owner."

Veronica agrees quality control is a concern on Taobao. "Many of the products are simply pirated versions of luxurious brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel," she says.

Selling copies, though, is just part of the growing process for an online platform, says Professor Alex Tham Koy-siong, assistant dean of the marketing department at City University.

"Any online shopping platform has to go through different phases before being recognised as a legit place to shop," Tham says. "When people first started to use Taobao, they had not yet developed trust in it, so the only things they would buy were cheap products."

As time passes, "people gain confidence and are willing to buy more expensive products from it. At the moment, people are shopping for fake goods, but eventually they will be buying authentic items. It takes time for a website to build its reputation", he adds.

Tmall, a site founded by Alibaba in 2008, is one example. It has developed into a site for dealing in reliable products, and Hongkongers are using it, too.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
How now, Taobao?

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