Selling Online in a Taobao World

In case you didn’t know, I run an online tea shop and a mighty fine one if I may say so myself :p.

It is a career that pays like a hobby but this post is not meant to be ranty. Quite the opposite, this is meant to be a pensive, self-reflection of sorts.

For many of us online sellers- not just in tea- is becoming sort of like the elephant in the room.

In terms of product variety- no way we can compare with Taobao. Heck, I spend a lot of time in the tea markets of China and I can easily lose myself scouring through tea ware in Taobao, marveling at the array of choices available.

In terms of prices it is ludicrous for anyone to expect their local merchant to match Taobao’s prices for the exact same product.

However, I have seen this cup  being sold for almost SGD 20 when it costs RMB 16 (SGD 2.67) from that site. Factor in shipping, agent fee, I think even SGD 12 would be a comfortable margin.

I realize I may shoot myself in the foot but the thing is, consumers can check prices on Taobao.

A small markup, I think consumers can understand that everyone needs to make a living. Too much of a markup, you invite scorn.

The world of Taobao means that we have to re-think our value add.

If as vendors, we are mere re-sellers, then one day consumers may find our role superfluous.

Here its time to blow my trumpet a little.

On our site we provide loads of tea related info- more than 200 articles at time of writing.

But more importantly, we strive for authenticity.

If it is a Tieguanyin we claim to sell, we make sure it has that ‘yin yun’.

If it is a Wuyi Shuxian, ‘yan yun’ must be there.

If we sell a ‘Taiwan High Mountain Tea’, it is where it claims to be from. Not Vietnam, Thailand or Fujian.

You will be surprised how often this is not the case, especially online.

I think that is our value add. That is what (hopefully) keeps us in business.

That is why I never buy any tea from any online wholesaler- and there have been plenty who approach me.

What is the point of me selling something that can be literally available to anyone (provided the Minimum Order is met) with a few clicks of the mouse?

We travel to China and Taiwan to meet the merchants, taste and buy the tea in person.

We study the teas so we know what we are buying.

That is not to say we are infallible, heck it is stunning the extent producers go in order to maximize their dollar value but we do our best.

And if we fail, we will be happy to make good on what we failed at.

Also we build relationships so we can get access to teas casual drinkers don’t. Not saying that we have it locked up- we are only 1 year plus in biz, not that many long standing relationships- but we will get more and more each year.

But this is not unique to us, I think eventually all vendors have to bring something to the table.

That’s the challenge of selling tea in a Taobao world.

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