Caixin
Jul 29, 2015 04:49 PM

Alibaba Lets Travelers Make Duty-Free Purchases Online

(Beijing) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has launched an online service to help Chinese travelers choose and buy duty-free products when they travel abroad.

Alibaba's Tmall.hk, an e-commerce website dedicated to foreign wares, is cooperating with South Korea's Shilla Duty-free Shop and Thailand's King Power Duty-free Shop to start the service on July 28.

Shoppers must provide passport and ticket information before they can choose the products they want to buy. They pick up their purchases at shops in airports by showing clerks payment text messages.

The service is starting with South Korea and Thailand because the former was the top destination for Chinese tourists last year and the latter has been popular this year, an Alibaba executive said. Duty-free stores in other countries will also become part of the program.

Chinese consumers often prefer foreign goods because they are seen as safer, better quality and cheaper than those found in local shopping malls. Some foreign goods are much more expensive at home than abroad because they are heavily taxed in China.

Shoppers are also turning to special domestic e-commerce websites, such as one offered by JD.com, that sell foreign goods. People often see their trips abroad as something akin to shopping excursions that allow them to buy clothing, electronics and other items not only for themselves but also for friends and relatives.

Individuals and small companies abroad have also been taking orders from people in China and mailing goods to them, something the government has been trying to get under control because it does not get any tax income from the activity.

More than 100 million Chinese people made trips abroad last year, official data show, and they spent 1 trillion yuan. Duty-free shops were one of their favorite shopping destinations.

The new service is part of Alibaba's efforts to extend its business reach overseas, said Liu Peng, president of Tmall.hk. Earlier this year, Alibaba started working to get foreign companies to sell their products on Tmall.hk in groups classified by country.

Alibaba wants to start offering more services to travelers, helping them book transport and hotels, make payments and buy goods, Liu said.

Ctrip, a leading online travel agent, started cooperating with a Japanese e-commerce company to start a similar service this year. That business allows consumers to make e-purchases from shopping malls and supermarkets and have the products delivered to their hotels.

(Rewritten by Guo Kai)

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