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Online shopping booms in China

Updated: 2010-01-09 15:40
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Shi Fang spends more than 4,000 yuan ($588) a month shopping, but she rarely goes to the shopping mall.

"Why need a shopping mall if you have Taobao? I am a Taobaoer," says Shi, 28, a freelance writer in Beijing.

Taobao, China's largest online shopping site has become an indispensable part of Shi Fang' s life. She spends half of her monthly salary to Taobao, logging onto the website every day, even when she doesn't need anything, simply to "stay updated to the latest items".

A growing number of Chinese Internet users like Shi have discovered the joys of online shopping. The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) announced in December that more than 87 million Chinese made purchases on the Internet in the first half year, which means one out of four Chinese netizens have online shopping experience.

Most online shoppers are students or white-collar workers aged 18 to 30, with a monthly income of 1,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan. More women shop online than men. Clothing and home-use products are the most popular goods bought online.

It is estimated that the annual consumption from online shopping will reach more than 250 billion yuan this year, and 80 percent of this is carried out through, China's fast-growing e-commerce hub established in 2003.

Taobao, meaning "hunting for treasure" in Chinese, is owned by Alibaba Group, which is also parent of, a global e-commerce site for small and medium businesses connecting buyers with sellers.

Shi Fang is only one of the 159 million registered users at Taobao. She could find almost everything she needs from Taobao, from underwear to furniture, from candy to DVD player.

The biggest attraction for Shi Fang is the relative low price for online goods, compared with those in stores in bricks and mortar. Her favorite facial cream costs 1,680 yuan for a 30ml bottle in the local shop, but a 10ml sample of the same brand only costs 68 yuan online.

"I bought three samples for 204 yuan plus a delivery fee of 12 yuan. I saved 1,464 yuan for the same product, same quantity and quality," Shi flashed a grin.

The Taobao instant messenger, a communication channel for buyers and sellers, also facilitates online shopping and ensures the overall experience for both parties. Shi Fang regards it as a platform to foster trust and maintain contact.

"You can check the information easily. It is sweet that the owner will remember you once you have regular chat with him or her through the messenger. You may receive some personalized service such as getting more samples or certain discount," said Shi.

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Also a faithful Taobaoer, Yang Fei is not as lucky as Shi Fang in terms of shopping online around the clock. Her company has blocked Taobao during working hours as more and more employees were doing online shopping at work time.

"Now I can only have a glimpse on the website during the one-hour lunch break and quickly make my order," said Yang Fei, 27, frowning.

While some may question the security of online purchases, Yang Fei gave a thumb-up for Alipay, the Taobao payment method launched by Alibaba Group in 2004 in partnership with leading banks in China. It enabled her to buy more than 200 items online since she registered in 2007.

"It's very safe and convenient. Unless you confirm the arrival and satisfaction about the purchase, the shop owner will not get the money. You can also get the refund if you want to return the purchase," she added.

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