China’s largest shopping site looks to make global impact

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First it conquered China, now it's taking over in Hong Kong. And the plan is that - one day - will compete internationally with the likes of eBay and Yahoo Auctions as the preferred online shopping destination for consumers the entire world over.

Initially set up in Hong Kong five years ago to help Chinese consumers find bargains offered by their southern neighbors, Taobao has in the past 12 months seen a more than three-fold increase in transaction revenue - and traffic - stemming the other way.

There were around 50,000 hits stemming from Hong Kong each day in 2008, according to Taobao, now there are around 150,000 and revenue reached 2.5 million yuan (250,000 euros) in December last year, again three times what it was a year before.

Spurred on by such success, the website - mainland China's largest internet shopping portal and part of the Alibaba Group of online-based businesses - is now exploring how it can extend its services to Taiwan, Southeast Asia and then beyond.

Taobao has 170 million registered users in mainland China - recording over 200 billion yuan (22 billion euros) in transactions annually - and shoppers in Hong Kong have increasingly been attracted to the prices offered for everything from clothes to accessories to baby products and rare toys.

The site "connects buyers to the huge manufacturing industry in China, which is the world's factory,'' Hong Kong-based artist and Taobao regular Lam Tung-pang told the South China Morning Post. "There's no lack of strange things on Taobao.''

Industry watchers last week also reported that Taobao was planning to start sharing purchasing data with its users - so they can chart purchasing trends and identify the site's "most popular'' items.

It's a service already offered by eBay, the world's leading online shopping site which claims more than 400 million registered users and total turnover that hit US$8.7 billion (6.5 billion euros) last year.