Old Version
Visual Report

Cracking Open Alibaba’s Cave

By NewsChina Updated Sept.1

Expats who live in China but don’t have a knack for the language can find it tough to enjoy one of the country’s greatest joys – shopping on Taobao, China’s answer to eBay. Now three US roommates who live in Shanghai have found a way to give their friends access to the trove of 800 million treasures on Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall platforms. Two years ago, Charlie Erickson, Jay Thornhill and Tyler McNew developed an English-language online shopping platform called Baopals, which lets expats in China shop on Taobao and Tmall in English, instead of Chinese.  
To date, Baopals has taken more than 100,000 orders – nearly 600,000 items from 20,000 registered members. Charlie and his pals moved the operation out of their apartment last September, and into a new office with 26 full-time staff and a lion-wig-wearing dog.  
To their surprise, the team has found more than just language problems can prevent expats from using Taobao. There’s also a lack of trust. But Jay and Charlie say they’re trying to overcome that.  
Jay writes a weekly column called CCC (The Cool, The Cheap & The Crazy) on Baopals’ website and WeChat account, introducing buyers to the coolest gadgets, the cheapest goods, and the weirdest stuff their team has found for sale. 
Jay surveyed their registered members’ searches and found that their top searches are for bicycles, Xiaomi phones, iPhones, Game of Thrones, boots, PS4s, funny Halloween costumes and sexy dresses.  

1. Braised eggplant, grilled cauliflower, and fried noodles with sliced pork: the Baopals pals, Charlie, Jay and Tyler, order their meal at a Hunanese restaurant in Shanghai.  
2. Jay and Charlie attend a summit on e-commerce entrepreneurship in early July.  
3. Jay and Charlie say they are trying to build trust between expats and Taobao vendors, and to dispel the common misconception that products made in China are of low quality.  
4. This startup experience has convinced the team of China’s promising business environment.  
5. The trio still cannot figure out how on earth deliveries in China can arrive so quickly.  
6. Jay and Charlie look after the company’s operations and team building, while Tyler handles all the tech work.