September 26, 2014

Amazon + Twitter = Christmas Wishlist?

Amazon-twitterWhat happened to writing a letter by hand and sending it (physical stamp and all) to the North Pole? Santa’s mailbox has gotten quite slim, now that social media is playing a bigger role in crafting Christmas wishlists. But it does make sense: Social media makes sharing and inspiration-gathering so effortless. Pinterest boards and Wanelo collections are popular homes for wishlists, and now Amazon and Twitter have jumped on board, according to recent news from Amazon.

Amazon and Twitter have launched a hashtag-triggered shopping tool, dubbed #AmazonWishList. When Twitter users see a tweet containing an Amazon product link, they can reply to the tweet with the associated hashtag. In doing so, the product in the tweet will be placed on the user’s Amazon Wish List. Once the item has been successfully added, users will be notified with a reply tweet from @MyAmazon, as well as a confirmation email. To enable the feature, users have to link their Amazon and Twitter accounts.

"Twitter offers Amazon customers a great environment for inspiration and discovery," said John Yurcisin, director of social at Amazon, in the press release. This isn’t Amazon or Twitter’s first attempt at social commerce. In May, Amazon released its #AmazonCart feature and just earlier this month, Twitter announced they will be testing the e-commerce waters with its “Buy now” button.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon’s holiday social push pans out. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it over the coming months.


Blog post by Jordan Nowlin, social media & blog manager, ChannelAdvisor


Wondering what's new with Amazon and what it means for you? Join us and Internet Retailer next week for a news recap webinar. Sign up now!


September 25, 2014

Webinar: What’s New with Amazon? (And What Does It Mean for You?)

Tuesday, September 30 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT

When you think of online shopping, Amazon is probably one of the first websites that come to mind. The e-commerce giant has revolutionized the online shopping experience, paving the way for other marketplaces.

Amazon has even expanded its product line, recently announcing the Fire Phone, which has some interesting connections to e-commerce. Just this past year, Amazon issued over 100 press releases revealing company acquisitions, financial results and new product categories. How do you keep up with all of Amazon’s news? As a retailer, which of these developments directly affect you?

ChannelAdvisor and Internet Retailer to the rescue! In next week’s webinar, ChannelAdvisor Amazon experts join Internet Retailer to recap the latest and greatest Amazon updates that are most relevant to retailers. You’ll leave this webinar knowing:

  • The new opportunities that are available to retailers

  • Recent rules and regulations retailers should be aware of

  • How to best position your business for changes in the future

Don’t miss out! Sign up here to claim your spot! 

Update on Amazon's Fulfillment Center (FC) Network

Every year as we head into the fourth quarter holiday selling season, we roll up our sleeves and update our database of Amazon Fulfillment Centers (FCs).  The job has gotten easier over the years as Amazon now announces most of the new FCs with local press, or talks about them on earnings calls.

In this post there are five Amazon FC related resources for you:

  1. Background and summary of Amazon's FC buildout
  2. North American interactive map 
  3. European interactive map 
  4. Asia Interactive map 
  5. List of newly identified Amazon FCs in the last year

Background on Amazon FCs and sortation centers

Back in ~2009, I noticed that I was receiving many of my Prime purchases on the next day even though I didn't pay for next day.  I explored and discovered that previously most of my packages came from an address in Hebron, KY and the next day packages were coming from an address much closer (we are in Raleigh, NC) in Columbia, SC.  I get to Columbia a fair amount (Go Gamecocks!) and drove by the address shortly after getting the package.  I was greeted by a giant warehouse with no branding or signage at all.  Hmmm.  We started researching and realized that it is quite hard to find detailed information about Amazon's fulfillment center network (especially from Amazon). Since then there have been several resources that have come out and Amazon has become much more open about sharing FC information.

That being said, we like to update our database annually and report on what we're seeing.  Our last post was here if you want to check it out to compare year/year trends.

Naming, purpose, etc.

Amazon's FC network uses a naming system that is usually a three letter code (usually the closest airport) and then a number. For example, in Phoenix, AZ you have:

  • PHX1 - The first Phoenix FC, has been retired (it was smaller footprint)
  • PHX2 -  Dame as above
  • PHX3 - A 1m sq-ft FC that replaced PHX1/2
  • PHX4 - Not exactly sure what happened here, sometimes Amazon gets temp/leased space and gives it a disignator and then moves on
  • PHX5 - 1.4m sq-ft (that's big) facility in Goodyear AZ.  You can see it here to get an idea of what we are talking about
  • PHX6 - 1.2m sq-ft
  • PHX7 - Newest FC in Phoenix - 1.2m sq-ft, came online in 2011

 In addition, sometimes FCs have specific purposes.  For example, some FCs are specialized for FBA receiving, large item storage and fulfillment (think golf bags and kayaks), small media items (books, dvds, etc.) and consumer returns.

Introducing Sortation

Last year after the UPS delivery situation, Amazon started opening a new type of building for their FCs called sortation centers.  Prior to sortation centers (SCs), the way a delivery worked is:

  1. Orders came in and routed to FC that was a) close and b) had the product in stock.
  2. Orders are all placed on a UPS truck - destinations could be anywhere in the US
  3. UPS takes them to local airport, sends them to sorting facility
  4. Packages are routed appropriately, many go through the big hub (Louisville, KY) (good article here if you are a logistics geek)
  5. Packages delivered to consumers.

In their Q2 conference call, Amazon casually said they are building/have built 15 sortation centers.  Once a sortation center is in the mix, here's the process:

  1. Orders came in and routed to FC that was a) close and b) had the product in stock.
  2. Orders are sorted at a sortation center (usually adjacent and/or connected via conveyor belt to a FC) - SCs are 300k sq-ft vs. 1.2-1.4m for FCs, so a much smaller facility, largely conveyor belt and automation driven.
  3. Orders are placed into zip code bands (e.g. NYC-downtown, midtown, uptown, etc.).
  4. Orders are injected into different carriers (USPS if sunday delivery, UPS if not).
  5. UPS takes them to local airport, bypasses  sorting facility.
  6. Packages are routed appropriately, many go through the big hub (Louisville, KY) (Good article here if you are a logistics geek).
  7. Packages delivered to consumers.

So SCs move a big piece of the logistics value chain INTO Amazon and away from the third-party logistics company.  This has allowed Amazon to utilize USPS for Sunday delivery. (Presumably because USPS may not be able to sort and deliver fast enough for Amazon's needs). 

If you want to learn more about sortation centers, here are three resources we have found helpful:

  • Insights into the first SC opened in Kent, WA and here.
  • WSJ article here.
  • Logistics industry article here


  • North America - 75 existing, 15 in process = 90 FCs 63m sq-ft
  • Europe - 27 existing, 3 in process = 30 FCs
  • Asia - 33+2=35
  • Total - 155 FCs - ~100m sq-ft


Logistiscs: Amazon vs. other e-commerce/retialers 

Whenever I talk about Amazon with retailers or at conferences, I always cover the FC network because I have found most people in our industry don't realize how big it is.  Usually the first question I get after showing the maps is 'how does this compare to...X?'  The top X in there is Walmart, sometimes I get Target, UPS, Fedex, etc.  Let's look at Walmart.  

Walmart has ~150 distribution centers in the USA, so has a much bigger logistics footprint than Amazon, just if you compared Walmart US to Amazon global.  However, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison because a Walmart DC essentially is part of a store logistics network - trucks/pallets of products come in from manufacturers, then are sorted out to stores (back out as trucks/pallets).  This is sometimes called cross-dock and is more of a B2B function vs. online fulfillment which is Trucks/Pallets in and onesy-twosy out, or B2C.

Walmart doesn't disclose how many B2C centers they have, but what they have said:

  • In 2013, they built 2 'large scale' centers dedicated to online order fulfillment (Penn and TX).
  • There is a 'ship from store' initiative that looks to turn all 4,200 stores effectively into their own FCs. Walmart has said 20% of items are coming from stores now vs. FCs.
  • In June 2014, they announced a 1.4m FC in Indiana.
  • Walmart has also said they have 'online fulfillment' areas inside some of their DCs.

So it's hard to get apples to apples here, but if we assume:

  • 5 dedicated online FCs
  • 10% of DCs acting as FCs = 15

That's a total of 20 FC's equivlent to an Amazon FC in the US.  Using that math, Amazon has 90 vs. 15 or 6X (also Amazon's FCs are generally bigger so it would be a bigger difference).

It's impossible to factor in ship-from-store. One of the challenges that you find with BOPIS (Buy-Online-Pickup-In-St0re) is the SKU footprint.  The average Walmart Super Center has 150,000 SKUs (source: walmart's corp site). has 6m SKUs (source:2014 IR500).  The math on that is 2.5% of the online SKUs are available in a store.  If you adjust for the fact that most stores have the top selling SKUs, then you get to maybe 20-30% of the products that can be shipped from store (or picked up).  Therefore, you can't really compare the store inventory to the FC inventory.

What does Amazon's FC growth mean for the future?

The biggest areas of growth in the Amazon FC count from 2013/2014 are:

  • State based (FL, CA, GA, NY/NJ) expansion - Amazon has been making deals with states for online tax collection.
  • East Europe - Amazon is building out several FCs in Poland and there are rumors of them launching in the Netherlands.
  • Sortation centers - As mentioned there are plans to build 15 in the US for Holiday 14.
  • India - there is one FC operational and we have found reports of 4 more being built which signals a pretty significant buildout.

Amazon is already substantially ahead of any other pure-play retailer and brick and mortar retailer when it comes to a consumer-oriented FC network.  With Amazon's growth into the sortation process in the US, they clearly are trying to further 'own' the fulfillment process.  Amazon Fresh (LA, SFO, Seattle) - includes product deliveries from Amazon branded trucks.  We're receiving more and more reports of Amazon owned and operated delivering products in Prime-dense zip codes.  Therefore reading the tea leaves, some possible next steps:

  • What if Prime offers next day shipping vs. 2-day?
  • What if Amazon increased the number of metros that have same-day shipping?
  • Amazon has expanded the USPS Sunday delivery program, which indicates they are pleased with the results, so expansion of that to more metros is possible.
  • Finally, logistics experts believe its only a matter of time before Amazon has a large selection of trucks, effectively placing them in competition with UPS, FedEx and USPS.

We'll be keeping an eye on all of these trends and keep you updated.

North American interactive map

On these interactive maps:

  • Green markers are operational FCs with their FC designators.
  • Wrenches are FCs that are under construction.
  • Blue stars  are sortation centers.
  • Green clovers - kidding!

You should be able to click on each FC to see it's details such as size and physical address.  If you switch into satellite mode, you can even drill down to the individual buildings where we have included the complete address.


European and Asia interactive map

The same legend for the US map applies here.


This blog post was written by Scot Wingo, CEO, ChannelAdvisor.



September 19, 2014

What You Need to Know About the Chinese Consumer: Understanding Alipay

The Alibaba Group is generating quite the buzz recently. The company lifted brows around the world as it embarked on its road show journey. Its IPO, now priced at $68 per share and raising just under $21.8 billion, is making headlines as the largest IPO in the history of the US stock market. Alibaba’s unique business model is catching global attention by offering a huge variety of online services, from marketplaces to music streaming to payment systems.

Last week we discussed some of Alibaba’s major marketplaces. Now, let’s investigate its robust payment system accompanying the transactions.

What Is Alipay?

Alipay is Alibaba’s popular mobile payment platform in China — an alternative to a credit card. In response to increased foreign transactions, Alibaba created Alipay in 2004 to build consumer trust with foreign sellers on its e-commerce platform. The secured payment system requires no transaction fees and is highly trusted by the Chinese people.

The payment escrow service accounts for roughly half of all online payment transactions in China. Late last year, the company reported nearly 300 million users and 2.8 million transactions. Every day through November and December 2013, an average of 12 million payments were made via the Alipay mobile app.

Why Alipay?

Culture greatly influences shopping patterns. In China, consumers don’t like to spend money they don’t have. Even though credit card use is on the rise, using credit for foreign transactions isn’t ideal.

Alipay offers a trusted alternative to credit card payments. It’s an escrow service, meaning that the system will hold a buyer’s payment while the order is being processed. Payment is only released to the seller if the buyer confirms that the order was received in satisfactory condition.

AliPay Also Does What?!

Think PayPal on steroids. Providing effortless e-commerce payments is just a portion of Alipay’s service offerings. The payment platform is essentially an all-in-one banking tool. In addition to purchasing items online, users can also use Alipay to purchase items in brick-and-mortar stores, pay bills, send money to friends, invest in stocks and more. This can all be done either on a desktop browser or through Alipay’s Wallet app.

Forbes has accurately described Alipay as a financial Swiss Army knife for your phone.

Eager to learn more about the e-commerce opportunities in China? Download the free eBook Understanding the Chinese Consumer.



September 18, 2014

Navigating E-Commerce Channels: Are All Hands On Deck for Digital Marketing?

Retail Blog Header

With the assistance of Redshift Research, we conducted the Multichannel E-Commerce Study with more than 200 respondents — US and UK retailers that already sell products online. Respondents were e-commerce decision makers at companies that averaged $3-5 million in revenue in 2013. The survey was intended to pinpoint e-commerce trends, as well as help identify opportunities and challenges in the online market.


Digital marketing is a common topic on our blog. We can talk all day about what it is, the importance of it and best practices to consider. But let’s take a different perspective this time. Understanding how your peers, your competition and other industry players are marketing their products online could allow you to better understand how digital marketing affects your online business.

Digital Marketing

As technology has advanced, so has the world of advertising. Digital marketing is here, it’s happening and it’s proving very successful for retailers.  

Of the retailers surveyed in our Multichannel E-Commerce Study, 64% are using digital marketing in their overall advertising plan. The top digital marketing channel among the surveyed retailers is product listing ads (PLAs). The visual nature of PLAs make them a great way to get products in front of consumers in an engaging format.  

The top three factors holding retailers back from increasing their digital marketing spend are budget (67%), confusion about the digital marketing landscape and the options it holds (36%) and uncertainty about the ROI at hand (32%). Digital marketing is an investment that requires constant learning. But if managed correctly, it can be a powerful tool to increase brand awareness and revenue.


Mobile adoption is on the rise for retailers' consumers. It’s a trend that’s becoming increasingly more important to the ebb and flow of business. In fact, 67% of retailers reported more that 21% of their current web traffic comes from mobile devices. Even 86% of the retailers surveyed believe that web traffic from mobile devices will increase over the next two years.

Learning to adapt to trends — especially the trends in consumer behavior — is key to success. Retailers are preparing for the mobile shift as 75% of those surveyed expect to increase mobile advertising over the next two years. Currently, 30% of retailers are allocating 11-15% of their advertising budget to mobile marketing. However, many plan on eventually increasing their mobile budget “significantly.” It’s refreshing to know that retailers understand the positive impact mobile can have on their businesses.

Social Media

Social media provides an opportunity to better connect with consumers and boost brand loyalty. Retailers are finding social media to be a vital part in relationship marketing. In fact, surveyed retailers' top three goals for social media are increasing brand awareness (70%), reaching a new generation of customers (41%) and driving conversions (40%). It’s a channel that allows retailers to talk with customers, not at them.

Out of the multitude of social networks, surveyed retailers named Facebook as one of the more popular social platforms used to create sales conversions. Drive traffic back to your webstore by posting about upcoming sales or coupon codes. If you have the capacity for a social budget, use Facebook’s robust advertising service to get specific posts in front of a targeted audience.  Nearly a third (31%) of surveyed US retailers are already using social media to advertise promotions and/or deals.


Retailers realize the importance of digital marketing, and it’s becoming an increasingly essential element in their overall marketing strategies. Tune back next week for an overview of retailers’ expectations for the 2014 holiday season.

  Navigating E-Com-Channels-Infographic-LP-img
For a visual recap of our Multichannel E-Commerce Study results, check out our infographic.

September 16, 2014

Ask a Retailer - Premium Australia Foods | Part 2: China’s E-Commerce Landscape – Insider Tips for Success

With more consumers, competition and channels, e-commerce is only growing more complicated and overwhelming. Sometimes, all you want is a frank conversation with someone in a similar position to ask them for advice.

Welcome to that conversation.

Our Ask a Retailer blog series shares insights from e-commerce retailers across various verticals.

This post is the second instalment featuring Christopher Morley from Premium Australia Foods, a successful export e-commerce company that helps Australian food retailers and manufacturers sell internationally. Armed with more than 10 years in the industry, Christopher brings a unique perspective to the intricacies of cross-border trade and the Chinese online market.    

Missed part one of our chat with Christopher? Catch up here

Chris Morley

What do Australian retailers need to know about Chinese consumers (shopping behaviours, psychology, etc.)?

The Chinese consumer shops differently to Australians when it comes to food. Typically they frequent brick-and-mortar supermarkets less and have lower cart value. This is because of smaller family sizes and more reliance on physical market stalls. Online food sales are taking off at a rate far greater than what we see in Australia. Typically, wealthier consumers don’t trust Chinese-made food and prefer food made overseas. Often this food can only be bought online, so more and more consumers are visiting the likes of Tmall to purchase their groceries.

The Chinese consumer is, in our experience, keen to try new things. However, because of the many food scares that have taken place over the past few years, they are also wary of counterfeit goods. Items that are seen to be similar to what we enjoy here in Australia and are packaged as they would be here, are seen as trustworthy and a status symbol.

Many Chinese see foreign-made goods as luxury items, particularly food. When presenting items in China, it’s important to focus on what makes the product special.

Something I’ve seen in Australian e-commerce, when looking at the distance between us and US e-commerce, is that the online communities deemed to be behind in terms of maturity often learn from the mistakes of the leader. Therefore, I think many Australian online sellers have looked at the US market and learned from mistakes made there and avoided them. I see this in China as well. While the Chinese market is behind in terms of maturity, they have learned quickly and have the world’s online sellers to learn from. For instance, email isn’t as popular in China – live chat and SMS are far more popular for buyer-seller communication. These are far more rapid and personal forms of engagement.

According to Forrester Research, more than 400 million Chinese consumers now have smartphones.1 Does the rise of m-commerce affect your strategy?

Mobile image
Mobile commerce is booming. The mobile phone is a permanent accessory of every Chinese citizen, and they’re very adept at buying from their phone, more so than Australians. While their e-commerce maturity may be behind Australians in terms of acceptance and infiltration, their m-commerce is leading the way globally. It’s almost as if the Chinese consumer skipped a stage of online buying, progressing quickly to the comfort and acceptance of m-commerce.

Checking the responsive design of all online aspects is vital. To not have a mobile-friendly site in China would be ridiculous, but the phone can also be used for scanning QR codes and taking photos/movies for social media. Both of these link back to our overall strategy.


What about social media?

Social media china 2With Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all banned in mainland China, we have a presence on WeChat, Weibo and Yukbo – the Chinese equivalents of the aforementioned social sites. These sites have significantly high user engagement and are growing at rapid rates.

One aspect of social media that’s been shocking to us is the influence of KOLs – key opinion leaders – essentially celebrities in China who mention products on their Weibo/WeChat accounts. These mentions heavily influence consumer purchasing. In Western media, celebrities don’t have anywhere near the level of influence they do in China.

Many of the same Western concepts about social media engagement ring true, such as trying to make the individual feel special and involved in something. A KOL is an absolute must for any business wanting to grow market share in China.

Does Premium Australia Foods have any strategies for Chinese holidays, such as Singles Day, Double 12 or Autumn Moon Festival?

We absolutely do have strategies for the Chinese holidays – especially the upcoming Singles Day, 11/11 – the biggest e-commerce sales day in the world. We’re also looking to bring many of our Australian holidays to China to help grow promotion opportunities, such as Australia Day, Christmas and even the Queen’s birthday feature in our marketing strategy.

By combining the Chinese and Australian calendars, we actually create new reasons for customers to come. I hope this will be an advantage for us in the next year or so.

Do you have any e-commerce best practices that you think might benefit other Australian retailers looking to sell internationally?

The use of m-commerce in China is, in my opinion, far superior than in Australia, in terms of consumer acceptance and business resource allocation. I think we can learn a fair bit from that, as it will be the future of buying. In Australia, there was significant debate about online versus offline and the use of phones in stores as a downside for Australian businesses. In China, it’s the complete opposite. Because of the emergence of online and the use of mobile phones, the trend of online to offline (020) commerce (attracting consumers online and then directing them to a physical store,  has emerged) – a more efficient and convenient retail model. This, too, is something we can learn from.

Christopher, we appreciate your sharing this insider glimpse of Premium Australia Foods and your insights into the Chinese market. We wish you and your company continued e-commerce success.

Blog post by Shani Flynn, Marketing Copywriter, APAC, ChannelAdvisor


Chinese consumer ebook cover


Want to learn more about China's shopping patterns? Check out our free eBook Understanding the Chinese Consumer.

September 15, 2014

2014 User Conference Follow-Up: Optimizing for Amazon

This afternoon, at our 2014 User Conference East, product manager Gina DeFrank and launch manager Lisa Learst offered expert tips for optimizing your listings on Amazon.

DeFrank started off the session by sharing a quote by advertising legend Morris Hite, “Advertising moves people towards goods; Merchandising moves goods toward people.”

Why spend time optimizing your online listings? It allows buyers to discover, evaluate and purchase your products. Amazon’s Listing Optimization Framework looks at the data you’re providing in three areas: core, categorization and product-specific.

Core Data

Core data involves product title, image, brand and description. It’s critical to have core data listed because it helps search results become higher in relevancy. Search is the primary way customers are going to find products on Amazon. Quality core data also allows customers to evaluate your products against similar products.

Images provide the closest opportunity for online shoppers to touch your product. Amazon prefers high-resolution images on a white background, multiple angles and zoom enabled. Images 1,000 pixels or larger in either height or width will activate the zoom ability. According to an Amazon study, listings with zoom-enabled photos enhance sales.

When your product doesn’t have the right title or image, Amazon will suppress your product. In Q2, ChannelAdvisor released an Insights Page allowing you to see your products that are suppressed within the Amazon system. In Q3, we decided to alert you to this again by also including these suppressed products in your Error List. Make it a priority to fix these items because those products are negatively impacting discoverability and product sales!


Make sure you are properly placing your products in the Amazon catalog so buyers can easily find them. Products are classified correctly in the Amazon catalog with the use of the Item Type Keyword. The products show up when the buyer browses for a specific item..

Browse Structure best practices include:

  • Review updates each quarter
  • Properly classify products with an Item Type Keyword (ITK) or Browse Node ID (outside the US)
  • Use the most specific and lowest level node
  • Notify Amazon if products aren’t classified correctly


Size, color, style, occasion, height, screen size and country of origin are all examples of product-specific information associated with your product. By including this information in your listings, it will help your items appear higher in search results due to increased relevancy.


Don’t think this session would end without a mention of Amazon’s fulfillment option. DeFrank and Learst concluded the session by highlighting the benefits of using Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA):

  • Extends reach to Prime and Super Saver members

  • FBA products are eligible to win the “Buy Box” at a higher price with free shipping

  • Easier access to international customers

  • Potential access to holiday deals

  • Multi-channel FBA

FBA can be easily managed with ChannelAdvisor’s platform. Once you initially ship your products to Amazon, ChannelAdvisor detects your quantity and looks for updates each hour. We list your product as “FBA” until quantity runs out. If FBA goes to zero, we flip you back to Merchant fulfilled status, if quantity exists.


Additional questions or didn’t get a chance to talk with one of our experts today? Email We hope everyone enjoyed today’s event! Be sure to tag your social posts and/or Instagram pics with our event hashtag #ECOMuser.

Your Essential Guide to Success on Amazon
Can't get enough Amazon tips? Download this free read for additonal Amazon success strategies: Your Essential Guide to Success on Amazon.

September 12, 2014

What You Need to Know About the Chinese Consumer: Understanding Taobao

Think purchasing via marketplaces like Amazon and eBay is common in the US? It is. But marketplaces are even more popular in China. There, 90% of e-commerce transactions are completed via marketplaces — a significant difference from most countries.1 To put that into perspective, marketplace sales in the US make up roughly one-third of the total e-commerce pie.2

US e-commerce

                                    US E-Commerce Breakdown

China e-commerce






                                                                                                China E-Commerce Breakdown

So what does China have that makes online marketplaces so appealing? Alibaba.

The Alibaba Group is an e-commerce behemoth. The company is composed of dozens of business entities that, together, dominate China’s e-commerce space. Its primary marketplaces include Taobao, Tmall and Tmall Global. Estimates put Tmall's market share at approximately 50% of business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce in China, while estimates of Taobao's share of the consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce market are often upward of 90%.  

Chinese Marketplaces

Below, we break down a few of Alibaba’s marketplaces.


With its B2B portal up and running, Alibaba decided to branch out to a more consumer-focused realm, launching Taobao in 2003. This was Alibaba’s first attempt at a large marketplace — and, boy, did it succeed. As of June 2014, Taobao is home to 8.5 million active sellers.

Taobao is often thought of as China’s version of eBay — without the bidding concept. It’s primarily a C2C site, an online hub that Chinese merchants and consumers flock to to buy and sell goods. The marketplace is made up of many independent stores that list their products at fixed prices, much like eBay’s “Buy It Now” feature.

Products in China are often more expensive in brick-and-mortar stores, and the retail selection is slim — another reason Taobao’s popularity has soared with consumers. With millions of sellers, Taobao offers a wider array of products, compared to physical stores in China. Plus, Taobao displays the products via a robust search feature that lists price options for the same product side by side.

And like eBay, Taobao has its fair selection of quirky goods from independent sellers. We’ll let you browse the luffa water and live scorpions on your own time.

Taobao Mall (Tmall)

Taobao's success led to a surge of counterfeit products, so Alibaba launched a B2C-focused spinoff marketplace for authorized sellers with legitimate products. Taobao Mall, mainly referred to as Tmall, is a B2C marketplace founded in 2010. It currently houses 50,000 storefronts and 70,000 brands.

In an effort to build consumer trust, Tmall permits only verified stores to sell via the marketplace. Alibaba also charges a commission for third-party retailers to sell products on Tmall.

Tmall Global

Tmall Global, the international division of Tmall, allows foreign brands to take part in the massively growing Chinese e-commerce landscape without having an actual presence in China.

Access to the world’s fastest growing e-commerce market offers distinct advantages for international sellers trying to reach Chinese consumers. Likewise, Chinese consumers are able to purchase high-quality products from outside China. Logistics are handled by international Tmall cross-border drop-shipping specialists, allowing delivery to Chinese consumers within five to eight business days.

Global brands such as the National Football League, Apple, Nike and Gap have launched on Tmall. A storefront on Tmall allows foreign brands to easily tap into China’s quickly growing population of online shoppers.

As the e-commerce hype continues to spread from China to the rest of the world, it’s important that Western retailers are able to take advantage of the growing market. Tmall Global helps dissolve yet another international barrier and opens up opportunities for both e-commerce consumers and merchants.

Tune back next week as we dive into the Alibaba-run payment method: AliPay.


McKinsey & Co.

Based on public reports from eBay, Amazon, Google, and ChannelAdvisor estimates based on our transactional data.



Want to learn about additional online marketplaces in China? Check out our free eBook Understanding the Chinese Consumer.


September 11, 2014

Navigating E-Commerce Channels: Are You Exploring International Waters?

Retail Blog Header

With the assistance of Redshift Research, we conducted the Multichannel E-Commerce Study with more than 200 respondents — US and UK retailers that already sell products online. Respondents were e-commerce decision makers at companies that averaged $3-5 million in revenue in 2013. The survey was intended to pinpoint e-commerce trends, as well as help identify opportunities and challenges in the online market.


Ah, the beauty of cross-border trade (CBT) — the seller on one side of the world and the buyer on the other. Products journey through miles, languages and climates to reach the awaiting customer in a matter of days.

Purchasing goods from another part of the world is essentially a streamlined process from the customer’s point of view. Let’s turn the tables and explore CBT through the eyes of a retailer.

Global Marketplaces

What’s the nucleus of international transactions? According to retailers surveyed, it’s not branded websites, brick-and-mortar retail partners overseas or direct mail. Global marketplaces are the number one point of sale for international transactions. In fact, 48% of retailers said that more than 20% of their online sales occur through international marketplaces. And among all marketplaces, survey respondents reported that Amazon presents the best opportunity to sell internationally.

Challenges and Opportunities

Cross-border trade involves multiple languages, currencies and cultures, making hurdles inevitable. In the survey, retailers admitted to experiencing growth challenges when expanding to international markets. The top three reported obstacles were shipping and logistics concerns (42%), regulations (33%) and currency issues (30%).

With all the global e-commerce transactions, certain regions are better for specific retail market opportunities. US retailers ranked the UK, China and Australia as the top three best regions for selling products internationally. UK retailers ranked the US, France, and Germany.

The survey statistics show that there is tremendous opportunity for retailers in international markets. It’s forecasted that CBT will reach $307 billion by 2018 — and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon. Tune back next week for an overview of how retailers are using digital marketing channels to increase brand awareness and revenue.

Navigating E-Com-Channels-Infographic-LP-img



For a visual recap of our Multichannel E-Commerce Study results, check out our associated infographic.  



September 08, 2014

Ask a Retailer - Premium Australia Foods | Part 1: How an Australian E-Commerce Company Entered China's Booming Online Market

With more consumers, competition and channels, e-commerce is only growing more complicated and overwhelming. Sometimes, all you want is a frank conversation with someone in a similar position to ask them for advice.

Welcome to that conversation.

Our Ask a Retailer blog series shares insights from e-commerce retailers across various verticals.

This first post features Christopher Morley from Premium Australia Foods, a successful export e-commerce company that helps Australian food retailers and manufacturers sell internationally. Armed with more than 10 years in the industry, Christopher brings a unique perspective to the intricacies of cross-border trade and the Chinese online market.     

Chris Morley

Before we dive into the specifics of Premium Australia Foods’ e-commerce strategies, tell us a little bit about yourself and the company.

Premium Australia Foods was formed to help small and medium enterprise (SME) Australian food producers and manufacturers increase sales in China through e-commerce. Premium Australia Foods is passionate about Australian food. We believe our food is the best in the world: packed with amazing tastes from premium ingredients grown in our green, sunlit country, and meeting high food safety standards at all times.

At Premium Australia Foods, my role involves working with online marketplaces in China, designing the look and feel of the online store, digital marketing and developing the SMEs’ food stories online.

I’ve worked with several online businesses and digital agencies and for a number of years ran my own successful online business. I’m extremely passionate about Australian brands and using my 10+ years of retail and e-commerce experience to help them grow their overseas footprints.

What’s your goal for Premium Australia Foods as a brand?

We want the world to taste Australian food and love it as much as we do. We want every Australian food producer/manufacturer to have the chance to send their food to the world without outlaying a huge amount of resources.

Our long-term goal is to make Australian food available on four to five online marketplaces and websites in China, promoting  Australian food through healthy lifestyle and high food security. We currently focus on shelf-stable food and will soon begin exporting fresh food such as fruit, beef, dairy and seafood to Chinese consumers.

What made you want to enter the Chinese market and help Australian food makers sell on Tmall Global? Why have you focused exclusively on that marketplace?

About two years ago, when I was working with Melbourne-based digital media agency Online Market Experts, we had several food businesses as clients. All of these clients were struggling to increase sales outside of Australia, as a result of competition and the inability to go it alone. We developed a strategy for one of the bigger businesses to take a collaborative e-commerce approach, thus breaking down many of the barriers to entry.

When looking to expand your e-commerce anywhere in the world, marketplaces are, in my opinion, the best place to start. Typically, they offer lower initial start-up costs, they’re transparent – so you can see sales figures, average recommended retail price (RRP) and who the biggest sellers are — and they have an existing database of clients, which is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve when going into a new area for the first time.

Using the Alibaba Group when entering China was a no-brainer given its market share. Initially, we focused on the platform, but Tmall Global — which removes all barriers to foreign business — presented the quickest, least expensive way to access the Chinese online community.

Tmall Global is the first marketplace we’re selling on, and we expect to add three more before the end of 2014, including Amazon China.

Many retailers feel overwhelmed by China’s high barrier to entry for overseas sellers. What are some of the obstacles Premium Australia Foods has had to overcome? And what have you learned from the experience? 

We’re always learning – China changes so rapidly that complacency with business operations is impossible.

When doing business in China, businesses must remember that China will do what’s best for China. In recent times, when the world has woken to the potential of the opening Chinese market, the Chinese government have rightly placed scrutiny on practices of all businesses trying to get into China.

Food presents many unique challenges. It’s completely different from selling a T-shirt in China. There are food licenses, import licenses, distribution licenses – and then the added difficulty of maintaining food security with logistics providers.

We’ve had to overcome the scrutiny that goes with applying for a business license, a food import license and a food distribution license. To open a Chinese-hosted website, a media license is also needed – something we hadn’t foreseen.

Getting money in and out of China can be difficult and can be cost prohibitive depending on banks and exchange rates. We’ve learned that the Alipay international product is very useful in this regard.

Often, contracts change and you can find yourself with new parameters and costs not previously agreed to. For example, while we had made an initial monetary agreement with a warehouse in the free trade zone, our final mile logistics costs ended up totalling four times the amount that was originally stipulated.

My advice would be to visit as many options as you can in person, tour each facility you can and see a prospective business at least three times before signing up with them.  Premium Australia foods logo

You noted earlier that Premium Australia Foods is expecting to expand to additonal marketplaces within China. Could you speak to your plans within the region or the possibility of entering other international marketplaces?

Our current focus is on the Chinese e-commerce space. As I mentioned earlier, Amazon China is one of the next marketplaces we’ll be listing on. We have two definite other marketplaces, and, as well as our own e-commerce platform. From our research on China, there also appears to be good opportunities on club-style sites — these will be potentially added in early 2015.

We’ve also discussed moving into other countries in Southeast Asia. Each new country we research is different, and to be successful we need to appreciate differences and provide the most relevant approach.

Check back next week for part two of our interview with Christopher Morley, where he’ll offer insights on China’s e-commerce landscape, Chinese consumers and how Australian retailers can succeed on the international stage. 

Blog post by Shani Flynn, ChannelAdvisor marketing copywriter, APAC

Understanding the chinese consumer image
For more information on breaking into China's e-commerce market, download our eBook Understanding the Chinese Consumer