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Trading places

Updated: 2013-04-10 09:59
By Xu Lin ( China Daily)

Trading places

The rapid rise of the online marketplace has created a secondary market for selling virtual stores on Taobao.com. Xu Lin discovers it is a legal gray area.

China's leading online marketplace Taobao.com will set out virtual property rights regulations allowing online stores to be inherited if the owner dies, and directing what to do when owners divorce. The new rules and an online application platform are expected to be rolled out within the next couple of months.

Though owners will not be able to sell, rent, or hand over their stores to third parties, according to the regulations, transferring store ownership is a growing trend.

"Online stores are a kind of property. It would be wasteful if a well-run online store is closed for ever. What I'm doing is like recycling a resource," says one Taobao store owner who would only provide his surname of Cheng.

He bought his online store for about 10,000 yuan ($1,610) last March to expand his Internet business interests.

The 28-year-old previously sold snacks from Heilongjiang province in Hefei, Anhui province, making about 300,000 yuan ($48,330) profit, about one third of which was from online sales. He says he is focusing on his virtual store now because rent on the physical store is expensive.

Store owners on Taobao.com have to register with their real names, one ID card for one store. As such, buyers of stores have to use the seller's identity, because it can't be changed. They then change the passwords and adopt the account so the buyer can operate the seller's Alipay, which is akin to PayPal.

"I just wanted to take a chance. It turned out to be a worthwhile risk," Cheng says.

Like many others, he didn't dare make the deal person-to-person in case the original store owner took charge again using their ID card. Instead he turned to 5pao.com, a third-party platform for online store transfers that was established in 2010.

The website operates similar to a property agency. The seller can post information about their store and the price on the website for free, and those who are interested can contact the seller via the website's employees.

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