Tmall logo

China’s massive e-commerce company Alibaba’s recent IPO on the New York Stock Exchange has increased the firm’s brand recognition outside of China. But ask any Chinese shopper and they have been using Alibaba’s e-commerce services for years.

Alibaba’s shopping platforms such as Taobao (C2C) and Tmall (B2C) are frequented by Chinese consumers looking for ways to reach brands that may not be available to them in physical stores in the vicinity where they live.

In 2008, Taobao created Tmall as a platform solely dedicated to official brand stores, allowing them to sell their goods throughout Mainland China. Tmall now has over 70,000 brands in 50,000 stores.

In February 2014 Tmall Global was set up. The aim with Tmall Global was to encourage big foreign brands to enter the Chinese e-commerce market.


What is Tmall?

One way to look at Tmall is to think of it as an online version of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue: a prestigious address focused on branded goods.

Tmall homepage

It has become a trusted platform for Chinese consumers to buy both international and native branded products and products that are not available in traditional retail outlets.

In China having a Tmall shop is a validation of your business. For big brands that want a presence in China and maybe a flagship store in the Tier 1 cities, but don’t need a store in every city, Tmall is their entry point.

Tmall Global positions itself to target high-end consumers in China and invites investments from overseas businesses.


Online shopping in China

Tmall is part of Taobao, which is China’s number one online sales platform. It serves China’s 527 million internet users. It is not just the internet population of China that is huge but also its geographical size: it is an area of 9.6 million km2, it is twice the size of Western Europe and three times the size of India.

The annual Singles Day sale (an event held on 11th November, celebrating people who are still living the single life) shows just how much Tmall has grown in just three years, with sales amounting to US$8 million, US$153 million and US$549 million in the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively.

In 2012, the total transaction volume of Taobao and Tmall reached US$160 billion, which is larger than the combined annual transactions of eBay and Amazon in the same year.

The total transaction value of China online apparel market exceeded US$71 billion in 2013 with a YoY increase of 42.8%, which accounted for 23.1% of the whole China online shopping market.

Alibaba’s three online retail marketplaces, Taobao, Tmall and Juhuasuan, generated a combined GMV of US$296 billion from 279 million active buyers and 8.5 million active sellers in the twelve months ended June 30, 2014 according to an official press release from Alibaba.

Transactions generated from Chinese B2C online retailers reached US$47 billion, 40.4% of China’s total online shopping transactions in Q2 2014.

China mobile shopping market total transactions reached US$28 billion in the second quarter of 2014, representing 26.8% of total online shopping transactions in the same period in China, an increase of 24.6% compared with the first quarter.

Tmall launched a standalone iPhone app at the end of April and it has already received 1855 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars. There are currently Android and iPad versions in the works.

Using Tmall is one way how brands can effectively reach out to consumers in such a vast country.


What is sold on Tmall?

Tmall Global offers retailers the ability to sell to Chinese shoppers via bonded warehouses in Chinese free trade zones, which reduces logistics costs and shortens delivery times.

While clothing, household items, and accessories lead the way, some more unusual items are becoming increasingly popular with buyers.

  • Luxury imported cars such as Lamborghini and Mercedes have seen a 400% growth YoY.
  • Following a food safety scandal there was an increased demand for baby formula made outside of mainland China.
  • American cookies and other classic US foods being sold has led to a surge in pre-orders for previously unavailable foods, with retailers regularly experiencing “sell-out” campaigns.
  • China is fast becoming the biggest online market for wine, topping global internet sales ahead of more traditional wine-buying nations such as Brazil, the U.K., and France.


The Chinese online apparel market has seen international brands such as Zara, Burberry and Cavin Klein start their entry into China by opening Tmall Flagship Stores.

Burberry officially launched its Tmall flagship store on 23 April 2014. Calvin Klein launched its Tmall Flagship Store in China on 19 September 2014. Other American brands, in addition to CK, such as Apple, Microsoft, Beats, Bose, NBA Nike, Gap, Levi’s, Disney, Anna Sui, New Balance and Estee Lauder have all launched their own Tmall Flagship Stores in China.

Anna Sui flagship store on Tmall

The latest America brand to make waves is membership-only warehouse club Costco Wholesale. They launched a Tmall Flagship Store on Tmall Global reaching Chinese consumers directly with competitively priced food and healthcare products ranging from clothing to groceries to laundry detergent to health and beauty aids.

Costco store on Tmall

Costco sold 3 tons of Kirkland nuts and nearly 1.5 tons of dried cranberries in just the first three days on Tmall Global.


So, what benefits are there to using Tmall Global?

  1. Tmall uses Taobao’s infrastructure and payment system Alipay, so Chinese users are familiar with all the services and trust the mechanism that they have been using for years.
  2. Unlike Taobao, Tmall only accepts verified stores. This gives customers a guarantee that products sold online are real, which builds consumer trust and, in turn, conversion rates.
  3. Taobao pushes Tmall stores actively over and above other stores, which results in more and higher converting traffic.
  4. Tmall has exceptional analytical tools. The ‘Daily Update’ analytics and daily sales reports can help merchants take strategic decisions and compare data against peers in Tmall.
  5. UCWeb, the mobile browser company now owned by Alibaba, updated its mobile browser to cooperate with Tmall. The new version will allow users to log in with a Taobao account. UCWeb mobile browser users who  shop on Tmall can enjoy privileges including special offers, Tmall credits and lottery.

Tmall analytics page on mobile


Tmall Global is a straightforward way to reach out to consumers living far away from those Tier 1 cities where foreign brands usually establish a physical presence on entering the Chinese market.


Tmall store formats

Tmall has three different store formats:

  • Only brands with a trademark (either ® or ™) can open a Flagship Store. The owner of the store must be a formal representative of the brand or hold exclusive authorisation documents for setting up a Tmall Flagship Store provided by the formal representative of the brand.
  • Merchants with brand authorization documents giving them distribution rights to sell products without geographical restrictions in Mainland China are eligible to open a Specialty Store.
  • Merchants with two or more brands within one of Tmall’s product categories can open “Monopolized” Store. Only one “monopolized” store can be held per merchant in one product category.


What is the process to set up a store on Tmall Global?

Businesses intending to set up on Tmall must possess a corporate entity outside of Chinese mainland. The brand must be registered overseas and have qualifications for overseas retailing. They also need to have good credit and an operating performance overseas.

Basic requirements for Tmall set up include:

  • A corporate entity outside of the Chinese mainland
  • Qualifications for overseas retailing
  • Brand owner/ authorized agency/have purchase vouchers


Preferred requirements include:

  • The corporation has been run for more than 2 years, and annual sales are more than US$10 million (need to provide relevant proof).
  • Branded B2C overseas businesses are preferred.
  • Brand owner or authorized agency is preferred.
  • Preferred industries are: maternal and child apparel, health care products, clothing, shoes and accessories.
  • Products with famous brands overseas.


Requirements of the products and services include:

  • Products originally produced or sold overseas have to be vetted by Tmall Global security, and formally go through Chinese international customs.
  • Product pages must use Chinese descriptions, use international units of measurement, and be equipped with Chinese language customer support.
  • Logistics services must start delivery within 72 hours of orders being placed. You may choose to deliver directly or deliver to Chinese bond warehouses first, then to Chinese customers. Logistic information needs to be tracked.
  • After-sale services must have set locations for handling returns on the Chinese mainland.


In general, Tmall costs can be broken down into three categories. Costs and charges include:

  • Deposit – this is for reimbursing consumers after a Tmall shop has breached the “Taobao Mall Service Agreement” and has sold counterfeit products. The deposit required is between US$8,000 to US$25,000 depending on the chosen store format and the trademark status.
  • Annual service fee – this fee varies according to product category and either amounts to US$5,000 or US$10,000. The merchant has the chance to redeem either half or the full service fee, if they reach Tmall’s predefined sales targets for the product sold.
  • Sales commission – for every transaction made, Tmall keeps 5% of the sales value as commission.


These are just the basic costs and charges. There are other product categories and sub-categories that will require more in-depth planning to accurately assess the full costs.


The process of actual set up is as below:

  • Submit product information and wait for checking. This is up to 10 working days.
  • Register an overseas Alipay account. To apply offline this takes around seven to 10 working days.
  • Sign the agreement and pay the annual service fee and deposit. This takes about seven to 10 working days.
  • Open the store. This includes registering an account in Tmall Global, taking a test, completing the information needed (see above), adding products and finally launching the store.


Tmall Global in a nutshell

There are vast prospects for overseas firms pursing entry into the Chinese market because the demand for high-quality products is increasing all the time.

Tmall Global largely simplifies the process for Chinese to purchase goods from overseas. Traditionally to purchase from overseas customers had to know a little English and own a credit card that has access to foreign currency.

Also overseas delivery may take up to 30 days or more, whereas products in Tmall Global are guaranteed to be delivered within 14 days.

Setting up an online store through a marketplace such as Tmall Global is the easiest and most cost-effective way to start online sales in China. You can fully customize the shop front and integrate the backend into your Order Management System (OMS).

Tmall should not be seen as a temporary addition, but rather as a long-term channel that needs a strategic approach to meet consumer demand and build a successful, long-term brand presence in China.

It provides an additional sales channel for brands that want to target consumers outside of the cities where they have a physical presence.


Have you used Tmall before? What do you think of it? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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