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Alibaba is the world’s biggest e-commerce group. Founded by Jack Ma, it owns Tmall.com and its consumer-to-consumer business Taobao.com.

Americans' turn to thrift a gift for Chinese traders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am

A depressed economy is apparently prompting Americans to look to China for second-hand goods, according to internet trading giant Alibaba.com, which reports a surge in online searches for used goods from United States buyers.

Hangzhou-based Alibaba.com, which operates the world's largest business-to-business e-commerce service, with more than 45 million registered users, estimated online searches by American buyers of used goods rose 113 per cent year on year in November.

Such searches rose from the middle of last year through the autumn, including a 127 per cent month-on-month increase in July.

The most sought-after second-hand products on Alibaba.com, from November 2008 to November last year, were fishing and sailing boats, cars from Japan and South Korea, golf carts, car parts, laptop computers and clothes.

It is a trend that bodes well for the more than 1.8 million small second-hand goods suppliers on the mainland that use Alibaba.com to reach overseas buyers.

'We used to receive from seven to eight buyer inquiries per day over a year ago, but now we are getting more than 10 each day,' said Charity Chen, the manager of Ever-Higher International in Shanghai.

The company is an exporter and importer of used cars, buses, trucks and construction machinery, such as cranes.

More than 100,000 firms based in Canada, and about 70,000 suppliers in Hong Kong, also actively use the e-commerce service to sell second-hand merchandise worldwide.

Alibaba.com did not provide transaction figures, noting that traders who meet on its online platform go offline to complete their deals. 'Clearly, the downturn has prompted those looking for certain goods to consider pre-owned products as a way to cut spending,' said Alibaba.com vice-president Sabrina Peng Yijie. 'The procurement and sale of used products could become a growing line of business in the US [for online traders] for years to come.'

The Michigan-based National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, estimated that there are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops in the US. These stores have increased in number by about 5 per cent annually for the past three years.

'Resale attracts a new demographic of both suppliers and customers during difficult economic times,' said Adele Meyer, the association's executive director.

Those who had recently become unemployed and were seeking new career opportunities were exploring resale or consignment shops, according to the association. It said resale remained healthy and continued to be one of the fastest growing retail segments, as many shops closed their doors.

Online traders using Alibaba. com's much used global marketplace for importers and exporters already feature more than two million used products from around the world.

Depending on their condition, second-hand cars bought from this site usually cost between 20 per cent and 40 per cent less than brand-new models.

After the US, the next biggest buyers of second-hand goods sourced from online suppliers are Britain and India, according to Alibaba.com.

'We expect the demand [for second-hand goods from these big markets] to remain significant in the coming years,' Chen said.

Peng said the growing demand for second-hand products may be partly 'driven by environmental groups' appeals to cut waste and recycle'.

Frugal shoppers

Downturn spurs US buyers to hunt down bargains in China

Alibaba.com says online searches by Americans seeking used products jumped in November by: 113%

Number of mainland second-hand goods suppliers that trade on the site: 1.8m

Number of users registered with the world's biggest B2B e-commerce service: 45m


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