A bridge be­tween for­eign­ers and on­line shop­ping

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By CHINA DAILY heqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Frus­trated by the dif­fi­cul­ties faced in buy­ing items off Taobao and Tmall, three Amer­i­cans set out to cre­ate Baopals, a plat­form that acts as a mid­dle­man be­tween fel­low for­eign­ers and these e-com­merce sites.

“We re­ally wanted to shop on Taobao and Tmall be­cause we knew we could buy stuff at re­ally com­pet­i­tive prices,” said Char­lie Erick­son, one of the co-founders. “But we were un­able to do so be­cause we couldn’t read Chi­nese and hence needed help on al­most ev­ery as­pect, in­clud­ing search­ing for a prod­uct, mak­ing pay­ments and track­ing the de­liv­er­ies.

“That’s when we came up with the idea of cre­at­ing an English web­site to help other for­eign­ers.”

On the day of its launch on March 1, 2016, Baopals re­ceived 12 or­ders of 22 prod­ucts which to­taled about 1,360 yuan ($202) in sales. To­day, 16 months since it was es­tab­lished, 115,000 or­ders with a gross mer­chan­dise value of 29 mil­lion yuan have been placed on the site. Baopals cur­rently has around 14,850 reg­is­tered users and a WeChat fol­low­ing of 16,000. The com­pany said most of their users are for­eign­ers.

Baopals’ first of­fice was the 80-square-me­ter apart­ment that the trio lived in. They now work in a 500-square-me­ter of­fice space and have a team of nearly 30 peo­ple.

The growth of the startup has even caught the eyes of Alibaba, the par­ent com­pany of Taobao and Tmall. Co-founder Jay Thorn­hill said that he and his part­ners have been in­vited to the head­quar­ters of the e-com­merce gi­ant, though he was not able to share more de­tails.

Thorn­hill is in charge of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment while Erick­son focuses on se­lect­ing prod­ucts from Taobao and Tmall to fea­ture on Baopals. The third co-founder, Tyler McNew, does web­site design and data man­age­ment.

Users can shop on Baopals via their web­site or WeChat, both of which con­tain de­tails such as prod­uct in­for­ma­tion and cus­tomer re­views from the orig­i­nal site that have been trans­lated into English.

When users buy a prod­uct on Baopals, they are pur­chas­ing it di­rectly from the Taobao or Tmall ven­dors. Baopals charges a 5 per­cent ser­vice fee per or­der and an ad­di­tional 8 yuan for each item type. Thorn­hill said they are look­ing at low­er­ing the ad­di­tional fee to just 2 yuan per item type.

Baopals also helps to trans­late the English ad­dresses pro­vided by for­eign­ers into Chi­nese to fa­cil­i­tate delivery. The com­pany also man­ages delivery, ex­change and re­funds for their users.

Thorn­hill ex­plained that the main prob­lem faced by many for­eign­ers when shop­ping on­line in China is not al­ways the lan­guage barrier but the pay­ment meth­ods. He pointed out that many in­ter­na­tional credit cards can­not be used on Alibaba’s plat­forms be­cause some for­eign banks, such as Chase, might deem the trans­ac­tion as un­se­cure and can­cel the pay­ment process. Be­cause of this, Baopals teaches users how to use Ali­pay, UnionPay and WeChat Pay for their trans­ac­tions.

Once a prod­uct is rec­om­mended by a for­eigner’s friends or other for­eign­ers, peo­ple are more likely to buy it. The core of this com­mu­nity is to es­tab­lish trust .”

Jay Thorn­hill,

Baopals co-founder of

The web­site now has 18 prod­uct cat­e­gories fea­tured on its main page with the most pop­u­lar be­ing women’s cloth­ing, house­hold es­sen­tials and elec­tron­ics. Ac­cord­ing to Baopals, the top key­word searches on its site are “dress”, “Xiaomi”, “bi­cy­cle”, “lap­top” and “T-shirt”. The founders also said they are plan­ning to ex­pand the num­ber of cat­e­gories on the main page to 50 in the near fu­ture.

Erick­son and Thorni­hill said that the goal of Baopals is not just to make shop­ping on­line in China eas­ier for for­eign­ers, but to be a vi­brant com­mu­nity for ex­change.

“A prob­lem with Chi­nese prod­ucts is that for­eign­ers are skep­ti­cal of the qual­ity. How­ever, once a prod­uct is rec­om­mended by a for­eigner’s friends or other for­eign­ers, peo­ple are more likely to buy it. The core of this com­mu­nity is to es­tab­lish trust,” said Thorn­hill.

He Qi in Shang­hai con­trib­uted to this story.


The Baopals Trio: Char­lie Erick­son, Tyler McNew and Jay Thorn­hill (from left to right) founded Baopals to help for­eign­ers shop on­line.

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