In the US, when people think of popular destinations for online shopping,most of them will think of eBay or While in China, people will think of or (Taobao mall, based on Taobao platform), which are the two main services of Alibaba. In 2013, transactions on Taobao / Tmall online sites totaled $248 billion, more than twice that of eBay and Amazon combined. In terms of online payment services, US people might consider PayPal, while China people think about Alipay, which is another service of Alibaba. Alipay is a gigantic E-payment service - over 60% of all electronic payments in China go through Alipay, and they are on a rate of trillion dollars annually.

I’m a loyal user of eBay/PayPal as well as Taobao/Alipay. When I use them, I cannot help making comparisons. During this process, I identified a lot of problems from both sides in terms of user experience and common workflows from a user’s perspective. But for this competitive analysis, I mainly focused on the shortcomings of eBay/PayPal. I do not mean to criticize eBay/PayPal, I just want to provide a better picture of opportunities- to see what we can learn from our competitors.

This report contains four sections:

1. Buying on Taobao vs. eBay
2. Selling on Taobao vs. eBay
3. Alipay mobile vs. PayPal mobile
4. Alipay web vs. PayPal web

* Tips: You could click the arrow on the top to browse through different sections, click drawer icon to see the catalog.

Defining Taobao, Tmall and Alipay: (all of them are Alibaba services)

What is Taobao?

Taobao Marketplace - is a huge Asian online store with several million Chinese sellers and shops, based on the C2C system (consumer-to-consumer). This system provides sales of goods and services between consumers who are individuals. I.e. Taobao acts as an intermediary in sales between private parties (the seller as an individual and the buyer (consumer).

What is Tmall?

Tаоbао Mall (Tmall) – is a trade site, based on the Tаоbао platform. The functional system of Tmall is B2C system (business-to-consumer). This trade model assumes the seller must be a legal entity (be an organization, the official manufacturer or brand) offering their goods and services to final consumers – individuals.

What is Alipay?

Alipay is the Alibaba’s payment platform. It is morphing into all-in-one banking tool: a savings bank, wire service and investment house. Most importantly, it’s all done via mobile device. Users can load cash into the Alipay app and can buy things online and in brick and mortar stores, send money to friends, make cross-border transactions, invest in stocks, and earn a healthy interest on your balance

Buying on Taobao vs. eBay

From a user’s perspective, it’s very different to be a seller than a buyer. Taobao recognizes this difference and treats them differently, where eBay combines them creating a frustrating experience for both.

  Taobao / Tmall ( Taobao’s sister site ) - spun off from Taobao eBay
Mode C2C, B2C

C2C - Taobao sellers indicate that they are small- scale sellers and price is usually cheaper.

B2C - Tmall sellers indicate that they are certified sellers, the quality of their products is highly guaranteed and they accept 7 days return without any conditions.

C2C and B2C are treated the same.
Search Taobao has many filters such as Brand, Efficacy, etc. to help users to locate products.

eBay has limited filters.
Product detail For most product detail pages, users will be able to see a video introducing the product and showing how to use it, which is very attractive and will increase consumer’s desire to buy. Less description available for eBay products, sometimes users even have to search outside eBay for product details and usage information. During this stage of discovery, they may be distracted and give up the purchase entirely.
Sales Record Anyone can view a product's sales record & usage feedback.

This is very useful information for those who find it difficult to decide to purchase.

Buyers can only see the quantity of sold out items, without the ability to check product related feedback.
Feedback 1. After the completion of the transaction, the evaluation from both the seller and the buyer does not take effect immediately.

It only becomes public after both sides have left their feedback. This means that each side can provide an objective evaluation according to their true feelings, because they don't have to worry about retaliatory negative feedback.

2. A single user has both a Buyer and a seller feedback score calculated separately.

This type of feedback calculation system is a more accurate reflection of the users activity, as being a buyer or a seller means the focus is different.

1. eBay feedback rating system starts from when buyer purchases the product and the feedback becomes public immediately. Whoever makes the first evaluation could suffer because there may be retaliatory feedback in response. This can lead to the distortion of the counterparty rating system.

2. Mixed buyer's and seller's feedback score.

In eBay, a single person can be both a seller and a buyer. Because buyers are less likely to cheat and they are easier to get positive feedback, so some users could gain a high feedback score by purchasing lots of low-value goods.

Checkout Taobao/ Tmall Points (similar to eBay bucks)

During the checkout process, the system shows the available points number to the user and allows the user to choose a specific number to use.

eBay bucks is not flexible

Users have to manually type a coupon code and cannot determine how much to spend each time.

Selling on Taobao vs. eBay

  Taobao / Tmall ( Taobao’s sister site ) - spun off from Taobao eBay
Selling methods 1. Sell items directly

2. Open a store (>99% sellers choose to open a store)

Taobao encourages sellers to open stores as the they hope all sellers could strengthen and expand their business. Opening a store is free, but sellers need to pay some money if they want to use fancy templates for store decoration.

3. Resell a purchased item.

If you purchased an item on taobao and you do not need it anymore, you can click the “one button to resell” button to resell.

1. Sell items directly

2. Opening a store is not free and requires the user to purchase additional services (more information on this below)
Seller Center Seller Center: In order to sell products on Taobao, sellers can use the “Seller Center” that has an interface which is very similar to the Wordpress admin dashboard. In addition to the basic functions of uploading and managing photos, videos and description, they offer sellers several free services modules (see more below) that they can subscribe to.

In the left bar, users can see all selling related information: Logistics, Products, Store, Wholesale.

Mixed Buy & Sell in the left bar

No logistics or payment info in this dashboard.

Find Categories Taobao has multiple ways to help sellers to find the product category

1. Search by key words
2. Find by recently used categories
3. Browse categories
eBay also has three ways, but user experience is not as good as Taobao

1. Search by keywords,

After finding the category, there is only one photo representing the product, without multiple photo choices.

2. Browse categories

For each level of category, there is no search bar for sellers to quickly find the category. They have to manually find what they are looking for. Moreover, there is no photo shown after users find the category.

Product quantity It is very easy to find where to input product quantity. If users wanted to sell multiple products at one time, they can hardly find the place to change the item quantity!

Users have to click “Switch to advanced tool” link on top right corner to change to advanced mode where they can find the option of changing quantity.

Changing the quantity is a very important feature, which should not be hidden so deep.
Upload product photos Besides the basic function of adding photos, video is supported. It has a image library which can save all photos uploaded previously and is organized using different folders. As a result, sellers’ workload is reduced dramatically Uploading photos and changing order in the "quick listing tool" mode goes smoothly. But in the "advanced tool" mode, changing the photo order becomes a headache. Sellers have to click the arrow again and again to change the relative position. Also, there is no library of previously uploaded photos, so every time you have to start from nothing.
Add product detail 1. It is very easy to add photo, video, flash, table and even emoticons. 2. Mobile friendly - allowing customization in mobile version Adding product description is not easy. Users expect an attractive, well-decorated product description section - this section would have both photos and their corresponding descriptions.
However, users can only type text in standard mode or in html mode. In both text editors, there is no way to add photos directly. Users have to do flowing steps: 1. upload photos 2. copy the URL 3.insert html code <img src= “../” width=""> This process is not intuitive - sellers definitely are not coders, they rarely know html / CSS.
Single item selling template For selling a single item, users can choose a template directly to add the product detail. By typing a keyword, users can find the template, then click the placeholder to upload photos, click the text placeholder to add description For selling a single item (stores do have eBay provided template), no templates are available.
Open a Store 1. opening a store is free, >99% sellers open a store
2. ample store template choices (free and cost)
3. transparent pricing for templates that cost

Sample templates for keyword “Technology"

Sample templates for keyword “Cosmetics"

Charge money for opening a store, to some extent discouraging small-scale sellers who might move towards large-scale sellers if given an easy path to do so.

Limited choices for templates
Selling Record It can save all records from the first day you begin selling It can only save up to 60 days selling record

If users want to relist products they sold out two months ago, they have no choices except to manually upload photos and product description again.

Combine Shipping In taobao, if a user purchases multiple items from the same seller, the shipping fee will be automatically reduced by the system, which can stimulate consumers’ buying behavior Combine Shipping - For sellers, no obvious UI hints to tell the seller how they can combine shipping two items to the same buyer. This is buried under a menu called Action > Combine shipment - not easy to find

For buyers, they lose money, the shipping fee of buying two products is not cheaper than buying one, which discourages the behavior of buying multiple items from the same seller.

Seller Center:

In order to sell products on Taobao, sellers can use the “Seller Center” that has an interface which is very similar to the Wordpress admin dashboard. They offer sellers a bunch of services modules that they can subscribe to.

1. photography service, aimed at providing high-quality product photos for sellers. (This service is not free)
For clothes, they’ll help sellers find suitable models and then take photos. Moreover, they provide content-write service, helping sellers pitch words and promote sales.

Sample photos:

Put for Clothes:

2. Store data analysis service ,which is similar to google analytics, helping sellers better understand their current selling status. (This service is free)

3. Popular words Service, which helps sellers know the latest popular words, searching trends and searcher demographics. (This service is free)

4. Business training Service, which provides a rich catalog for sellers to learn about store operation, marketing, customer service, business tools to help businesses grow. (This service is free)

Courses vary with sellers’ stage. For a new seller, they will offer courses related to understanding Taobao rules and learning marketing approaches. For a middle-level seller, they will offer courses related to how to raise sales volume. For an expert seller, they will offer courses related to manage teams, build the brand and integrate marketing.

It’s worth mentioning that instead of using static images, all courses are in video format, very concise, very attractive.

Other services Provided by Taobao:

The official contact
for any questions at Taobao, go here to consult.

Seller growing assistant:
consulting service for start-up sellers based on data of successful and unsuccessful sellers in similar fields.

Supply center
searching for suppliers based on seller's inventory.

social network service designed for selling and purchasing

Shop reminder
calendar management for sellers.

Alipay Mobile vs. PayPal Mobile

Alipay (China Paypal ) is a gigantic E-payment service - over 60% of all electronic payments in China go through Alipay, and they are on a rate of trillion dollars annually.

I saw an interview for Elon Musk, he was calling for PayPal to transform itself into something that looks very much like Alipay does today. Musk predicted that if PayPal became a full-service bank it could eventually hit a market cap worth $100 billion. He mentioned that Paypal needs to offer all the services of a bank: accept direct deposit, offer checking accounts and, most importantly, pay interest.

When it comes to Alipay, people tend to use words like social, breakthrough business model, money-saving, multiple payment scenario, daily life related, personal, variety

When it comes to PayPal, people tend to use words like limited payment options, not saving money….

With all the features that it has, Alipay becomes an indispensable part of someone’s daily experience. It can truly help them have a better life, connecting with their needs, their money, their friends all in a single place.

Alipay has the following features:

- Cutting-edge technology: sound wave technology - it allows users pay through phone speaker, No Internet Required.

- Personalized: Gesture login, invisible Gesture for security, analyze spending behavior and compare with others (e.g., you are ahead of 60% users), words cater for young generation, tally book, buy bus ticket/ air ticket, food ordering,

- Multiple payment methods: on-site, real-world payments (bar code, QR code, split payment. unique QR code for identity, sound-wave payment)

- Multiple App usage scenario: Buy bus tickets / air tickets, buy game point cards, Food ordering, student card

- Integrated with Taobao/ Tmall seamlessly and frictionlessly: Users can check their shopping records in Taobao and shipping delivery status,

- Social media features are embedded: share with friends about your badge, participate in New Year holiday red pocket sending to friends or family.

- Breakthroughs in business model: earn interest(Yuebao), coupon list / VIP membership card, transfer money to bank account within two hours.

- No Dependencies: alipay is totally independent (you can do everything without PC). In contrast, paypal mobile rely on web - add bank info need to use PC

  Alipay mobile ( online payment + offline payment ) Paypal mobile
Login Gesture Password (Supports invisible gesture) Login with password

My password is super complicated, so typing the password is troublesome.

PayPal allows users to login with a user predefined PIN number, but there is no clear clue to tell users where to setup.

Payment methods 1. Sending money by adding transferee’s phone number or email address

2. Show payment code to others to pay (support both QR code and bar code)

3. Pay by scanning other people’s QR code, each person has a unique QR code for identity, this is created by default at the time of account setup.

4. Pay by taking photos of credit / debit cards - Accept Direct Deposit

5. Pay via mobile speaker - sound wave technology

– pressing a button causes the phone to emit a sound wave which, when directed towards a sensor causes the payment processor to extract funds from the Alipay Wallet. Alibaba said that sensors cost RMB 50 (about $8) a pop for retailers.

6. Split Payment by holding a button simultaneously - “Split the bill”

After someone has paid for a group purchase – say, dinner – users can all get out their cellphones and hold the “AA” button simultaneously and and they’ll automatically be grouped together. The recipient then presses a “receive payment button,” enters the amount to be divided, confirms the participants, and then collects the take.

7. Fingerprint payment partnering with Samsung Galaxy
1. Sending money by adding transferee’s phone number or email address

2. Show payment code to others to pay (QR code only, no support for bar codes)

3. PayPal HERE

4. PayPal Beacon
Bank Account Add bank accounts easily by inputing card number or taking photos; bank balance is available No place to add bank accounts, can only view & delete, so paypal mobile has dependencies - it relies on web access

Also no way to check bank balance
Coupon Code& VIP card Taobao has a coupon aggregation function: it concentrates a bunch of coupon code / store membership card. When users go shopping, those coupons / membership cards will save money for them. Unlike credit cards, using PayPal has no cash back. So by using PayPal, the user, to some extent, is losing money.

We have coupon aggregation function in RedLaser (an eBay app), but not too many people know.

Function Service hub -an aggregation of services and functions, including:

1. Transfer Money: Transfer/ International Transfer, Offline payment via phone speaker Transfer money to other bank accounts with payment made within two hours | Transfer money to other Alipay accounts

2. Payment:pay credit card bills with no fee levied, pay utility bills with no extra fee levied, top up mobile phone with credit

3. Other Financial Related:loan, insurance, lottery, donation, tally book, check bank balance

4. Taobao Service Related: Use to check-out on shopping apps and (these are escrow services), check Taobao shopping record, goods delivery tracking

5. Daily Life Related:Buy bus tickets / air tickets, buy game point cards, Food ordering, student card

Example: Food ordering service

Other examples: Booking air tickets, find a taxi, buy lottery
PayPal function is more focus: Payment + Shop
Money Spending Analysis Money spending analysis function which is similar to, aimed at organizing and categorizing spending. This can be very useful for individual budgeting and money management. Account history is very simple, with no useful analysis of spending.
Social Media Features Based on your expenditure record, user is given a badge. And you can share it with your friends via weibo (China Twitter), laiwang, etc. Not Available
Content Design For content design, Alibaba uses a lot of words to cater to a younger generation, for they think that young people are the trendsetters and the main force of purchasing power today and tomorrow.

Alipay Web vs. PayPal Web

Alipay Web PayPal Web
Account Type Separate personal accounts and business accounts Mixed personal accounts and business accounts

Personal transaction and Business transaction information shown together, no way to view them separately. If a user upgrade their account to a business account, they cannot downgrade to a personal account and there is no way to change Business Name in the system.

Security perceived by users A good feature - Alipay shows the last login time on the top, which could potentially reduce the rate of account stolen Not available
Site search function Search function within the website, helping users find needs quickly Not available
Problem- solving and workflow Very transparent about common workflows with good introduction and explanation of procedures? Provide information on how much time it will take, etc. For example, see refund process below No explanations available, users can be very frustrated when they have problems like these. Typically their only resource is to send emails or call paypal customer service, which increases work burden of PayPal employees.
Link to mobile version Download mobile app, two methods:

1. Scan QR code to download

2. Click download button to download from App store
One method: click download button to download from App store
Connection with related shopping activities Alipay can access and show users their shopping records from Taobao

Can track delivery status of goods purchased using Taobao

Strong connection makes it easy to navigate between the two websites with url links, etc.
No easy access to eBay or other shopping sites.

A bug found:

Author's Notes

I’m a heavy user of eBay/PayPal as well as Taobao/Alipay. When I use them, I cannot help making comparisons. During this process, I identified a lot of problems.

When I was joining the ebay playbook design jam last month, I showed some features of Alipay to a designer at PayPal. He was very interested in that and suggested to me that I should write down my observations.

So I started doing this. At the very beginning, I thought this was an easy thing to do and I could finish it within a day or two. But soon I noticed that it turned out to be a large amount of work, for I had to test every detail of those websites and mobile apps. More specifically, I applied for different accounts ( personal account, premium account, business account, seller account ) to do testing and went through all workflows of buying, selling, transferring money/ internationally transfer.

After a couple of days, I collected a bunch of information and wrote down about 5000 words using the style of storytelling. After writing, I realized that contradictions were not prominent in those stories and users may not be able to get my points accurately. As a result, I changed to table format to try to make contradictions become obvious. In addition, I reorganized content and greatly reduced the number of words. Then came to the most troublesome process- translation, mobile in particular, as I had to do a lot of screenshots and edited them in photoshop to replace Chinese with English manually. The whole process took me about a month, I mainly wrote this at night and weekends.

For this competitive analysis, I tried to describe the differences of user experience and common workflows. It does not contain every aspect, it’s just a starting point. My next step will be writing the “eBay mobile vs. Taobao mobile” and “ China Singles' Day ”, which is the biggest online shopping holiday, similar to US cyber day.

As an eBay employee, I hope to contribute to the development of our products.

Rui Feng

Aug 24, 2014

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