Taobao has scored itself a cosy corner space in the basement floor of the newly renovated Funan mall. Brought in by Virmall, a local Singaporean company helping to bring in products from merchants online, Taobao has populated its physical store with items curated from its popular online listings.
We should probably preface this by saying that the presence of physical stores for huge e-commerce companies isn’t exactly a novel idea. In recent years, US e-commerce behemoth Amazon has begun establishing brick-and-mortar stores all over America, offering a range of products in the form of Amazon Books and Amazon Go.
Taobao’s entry into the Singapore mall space isn’t new either, if you count their 6-month pop up at multi-label store NomadX last year that is, though the limited scope of products on offer then did no justice to its massive online inventory. Now, with a space it can call its own in Funan, quite a bit of hype has been drummed up so, we couldn’t help but drop by and see what the Chinese e-commerce giant was offering in their swanky new space.
A Primary Focus on Household Items, Appliances, and Furniture
I remember approaching the Taobao store thinking I’d mistakenly entered a furniture shop, but the hanging orange sign and red mascot of Taobao reassured me I was in the right place. To be fair, it is largely a furniture showroom, bearing the physical products of leading brands on Taobao such as Linsy Home and JiYouJia.
Charlene Zhang, Business Development Lead for Taobao, Singapore, noted that it was the home and living category that saw a marked increase in interest with the introduction of sea shipping to Singapore back in 2017.
With the successes of previous pop-ups, Taobao was spurred to open a physical store in Singapore, and the renovation of the Funan mall presented a perfect opportunity. What you get is an integrated space filled with Taobao home and living products from popular merchants that sees a wide range from sofas and beds to kitchen ware. The option to see and touch the products, especially the bulkier ones, lends more confidence to buyers seeking to make a purchase.
While the current store is heavily invested in the home and living category, future products will come to include fashion and textiles which will once again change the game of online shopping.
Foray into Virtual Reality
And even when we get to touch the pretty furniture, it may not be enough for us to make a purchase. That’s where Taobao Singapore is stepping up their game. Virtual Reality (VR) seems to be the shiny new toy when it comes to physical shopping nowadays.
US giant Amazon’s newly opened Amazon Showroom implements VR technology to aid customers in visualising what potential home appliances and furniture would look like in their house, per a template where you can colour to best resemble your room.
Taobao has also sought to incorporate VR into the Singapore shopping experience, and it seems that it might be a step higher than what Amazon is offering. If you provide the measurements of your floor space, the staff at Taobao Funan can render a 3D model (in about an hour, depending on the crowd) which you then can experiment with various furniture to see the fit in terms of colour and size.
With a near replica of your house or room, it would help immensely with better visualising the sofa or bed before committing to a purchase.
The Future of Shopping: A Blend of Online and Offline
The developments of Amazon and Taobao appear to be charting the future of commerce, one that will contain a blend of modern e-commerce and a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
Shoppers at Taobao Funan can seamlessly order the products featured in store through the Taobao app by scanning the corresponding QR code and choose the design, colour, and size of their desired product.
While there are some smaller items that are available in the Funan store, most of the larger furniture will be shipped upon order. Moreover, those readily in stock will be shipped over in two to three days, making sure you’ll get that piece of new furniture in no time. You can also choose to pick up your online orders when they arrive at the store, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
Perhaps e-commerce having such physical stores are going to be more commonplace, a left arm to the right of the online marketplace. Taobao setting up shop in Singapore is yet another indication of the world becomingly increasingly smaller.