Taobao's first physical store in South-east Asia opens in Funan

The shop is a partnership between Taobao and Virmall, a local business partner that helps to curate and bring in products from merchants on Taobao for Singapore consumers. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao has opened its first store in South-east Asia, in Funan mall, to cater to rising demand for its home furniture goods.

Called Taobao Store by Virmall, the shop is a partnership between Taobao and Virmall, a local firm that helps to curate and bring in products from merchants on Taobao.

Opened on Wednesday (Sept 4), the shop offers more than 300 products from furniture to kitchen appliances and clothes. About 80 per cent of the items are from the home and living category, the fastest-growing category in Singapore on Taobao.

The 6,000 sq ft store on Basement Two of Funan mall is about 10 times larger than Taobao's previous six-month pop-up at multi-label concept store NomadX in Plaza Singapura.

The opening of the Taobao store comes as competition in the e-commerce marketplace heats up, with home-grown shopping platform Shopee opening its new regional headquarters in Kent Ridge on Tuesday.

Taobao, which is under tech giant Alibaba, declined to reveal the revenue generated in Singapore in past years.

There are Taobao stores, such as pop-ups, in other countries.

Its Funan store offers a complimentary virtual reality (VR) service for shoppers to better visualise how a piece of furniture will fit into their homes.

While some large furniture pieces can be purchased only by scanning the item's QR code on the Taobao mobile app, a number of items, such as the Xiaomi 90 series 20-inch luggage ($108.80), are available for cash and carry at the store.

Shoppers can also send their online Taobao orders to the Funan store, instead of their homes, where they can pick up their orders at their convenience.

Ms Charlene Zhang, business development lead at Taobao Singapore, told The Straits Times it was a natural step for Taobao to set up a physical store in Singapore, following the positive feedback from previous pop-up showcases.

She said sales in the home and living category have been on the rise since Taobao started offering the option of sea shipping to Singapore in 2017, which allows for the delivery of bulkier furniture items.

"Typically home and living items are priced higher so shoppers may be a bit more apprehensive of buying big-ticket items, such as a sofa, online. Having a physical store allows them to see and touch before buying," she said.

Virmall's general manager Sky Chen said the store allows shoppers a chance to view more unique and well-made products not necessarily associated with Taobao's brand.

He said: "Over the years, many brands and merchants have grown with Taobao and are producing well-designed and good quality products, which customers outside of China might not realise."

As part of the store's opening celebrations, there will be flash deals starting from $3.90 this weekend. Taobao will hold its 99 Mega Sale on Sept 9 and 10, where shoppers can get free shipping for more than 999 items and other perks in store.

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