(3 of 4)
Believe it. According to Alexa.com a market-research site tracking e-commerce, Taobao has surged in front of eBay by a variety of measurements. As of Aug. 1, Taobao was reaching 15,800 out of every 1 million Internet users, compared with just under 10,000 for eBay China. The number of page views per user--a measure of interest in the site--was 10.7 for Taobao vs. 7.4 for eBay. Most analysts agree that GMV is also a reasonable standard of performance. In the first quarter of this year, Taobao announced $120 million GMV vs. $90 million for eBay. In the second quarter, Taobao claimed $200 million, while eBay withheld its China data, claiming its competitors were distorting the numbers. "We didn't distort anything," says Porter Erisman, Taobao's vice president for corporate marketing. "We just beat them."
For eBay, it's clear the game has only just begun. The company is sinking an additional $100 million into China this year--much of which is going to marketing. eBay ads are ubiquitous on buses in Shanghai and other metro areas, as are its television commercials and online ads as well as other, quirkier promotions. At many popular karaoke bars in Shanghai, for example, customers get an hour of singing and drinking for free if they register as eBay users. The brash Ma mocks these efforts, claiming he canceled his marketing budget in the first half of this year when he discovered how much eBay was spending, figuring that "their ads were just expanding the e-commerce pie for everybody."
That could turn out to be wishful thinking. The same Alexa.com data that put Taobao in front also show a distinct narrowing of the gap. The reach-per-million-users data, for example, have Taobao's users down 6% over the past three months, while eBay's are up 32%--arguably a sign that what Taobao's Erisman sarcastically calls the "shock and awe" marketing campaign is having an effect.
eBay has rolled out its standard support system for big-time sellers in China. Education sessions are available once or twice a month at "eBay University," and what seller Wu Lin, who runs a full-time business selling clothing on the site, calls "excellent customer service" helps maintain customer loyalty. "If I have a question, they answer it," she says. eBay has finally introduced its secure online-payment system--PayPal. Alibaba-Taobao started its version, Alipay, earlier this year--something that has benefited it significantly in all overseas markets. Wu says she has "looked at Taobao, but I see no reason to leave eBay at this point."
Whitman knows Taobao doesn't charge sellers to list items on its site, but that won't be the case next year, as Ma acknowledges. eBay believes that will be a game changer, even if the alliance with Yahoo! makes Taobao's pockets that much deeper. But a link with Yahoo! gives Ma the capital and technology he needs to battle eBay on its terms. "Meg made a big mistake coming here," he says with a smile. "I respect her for doing so, but the chief commander shouldn't be at the front line with the troops. It just causes confusion and panic."