Website makes online shopping easier for expats

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, May 7, 2016
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For expats living in China, finding their way around the giant online shopping platforms run by Alibaba, which offer more than 800 million products, can be a daunting task. This led long-term US expats Charlie Erickson, Jay Thornhill and Tyler McNew to develop Baopals, an English-language website that helps foreigners in China to navigate and buy goods on Alibaba platforms Taobao and Tmall.

With an investment of about 500,000 yuan ($77,000), which included their own personal savings together with financial help from friends, the trio set up Baopals in Shanghai in February.

"The idea was born out of necessity from all of us," said co-founder Erickson. "I was always asking my Chinese colleagues to help me buy things on Taobao. So, we just wanted to figure out a way to do this independently."

Baopals constantly updates the flow of goods from Alibaba's platforms and automatically translates the product information, including customer reviews, into English.

The website also reorganizes products into different categories to facilitate the item search for non-Chinese speakers, and it has a bilingual customer support team to help with questions.

To make the shopping experience even more convenient, Baopals accepts Alipay, WeChat Wallet and China UnionPay as payment methods and is working on integrating Visa, Mastercard and Paypal into the system.

In the past two months, the website has sold 7,000 products and shipped them to 40 cities in China.

Erickson said Baopals sees steady growth ahead. "We expect to keep doubling our transactions every month for the next three to four months, at least", he said.

For every transaction on the platform, Baopals charges a service fee of 5 percent of the item price, plus 8 yuan per item type. The service fee is automatically included in the pricing of all the products on the site.

Because the website is still in early stages of development, the company expects to secure more funding in the coming months to improve technology.

"We are currently in talks with some Chinese investors interested in participating in the next round of investment that will take place in the next three to six months," said Erickson.

Similar to the general shopping trends on Taobao, the biggest categories on Baopals are women's clothing, electronics and household goods.

Abby McBride, a US expat living in Shanghai and a regular user of the website, said her purchases have ranged from home decor to charcoal for her grill. One of the major advantages of the website is being able to use WeChat Wallet, since Alibaba accepts only Alipay, she added.

"It can be challenging for non-Chinese speakers to use Chinese shopping platforms," said McBride.

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