BEIJING - What more can on-line shopping offer beyond direct delivery of goods and services at lower prices?
A new form of on-line shopping in China, tuangou, or "team buying," has the answer: new friends.
Like traditional on-line shopping, team buying offers cheaper prices -- along with the chance to shop with people of similar interests.
Tsinghua University student Liu Dun, 21, bought a ticket to a Beijing golf tournament for just 20 yuan ($3) -- instead of the usual 1,000 yuan -- on tuangou website Aibang.com.
Liu says he made "a lot of friends" after the tournament. "I will continue to shop through on-line team buying because it brings together people with similar interests and cuts prices."
Team buying was once regarded as the domain of businesses trading in industrial or agricultural products, or it was organized by individuals.
In order to haggle for discounts, customers, most of the time strangers, would connect on-line and agree to approach vendors as a group.
However, the increasing popularity of team buying in China has opened a new market for dozens of professional service websites, like Aibang, which save buyers from the haggling.
Aibang serves as an intermediary between costumers and businesses, with all goods and services offered at discount, says Zhu Min, head of marketing at Aibang, which launched its tuangou service in April.
Since April 22, it has recorded six days when the number of daily deals exceeded 1,000.
Team buying encourages interaction between customers buying the same goods or services and broadens people's horizons, says Zhu. "We have ignored too many beautiful things around us because we are too busy to notice them. But in team buying, we can find and enjoy those things -- food, clothing, music, books, or holidays -- that are popular with others."
Beijing fashion magazine employee Xu Wei is a tuangou "addict."
"Team buying tells me the latest fashions," she says. "My job requires me to closely follow trends. Team buying helps me a lot."
Tuangou is still an emerging business model. The number of daily deals on most sites seldom exceeds 1,000 and Beijing is one of the few cities where deals are conducted on a daily basis.
Wu Bo, CEO of the team-buying website, Lashou.com, says the rising number of customers will sustain its growth.
"Team buying will keep growing in China at a faster rate than in other countries such as the United States," Wu predicts.