Alibaba Group, which controls the mainland's biggest corporate e-commerce site, will merge its Taobao and Alimama units, ahead of the company's plans to charge users for the Taobao service. Analysts said the merger would strengthen services at Taobao, the mainland's largest consumer e-commerce company, and facilitate Alibaba's plans to turn Taobao into a paid site by next month. 'Sales staff at Taobao will start calling up its users after the paid service begins,' said Jacky Huang, a senior internet analyst at IDC China. 'Placing advertisements with Alimama will be just one more service for sellers on Taobao.' Taobao services have been free since the site was launched in 2003 to fend off its main rival, eBay. EBay exited the mainland market after its market share dropped to 10 per cent last year from about 80 per cent in 2002. Alimama is an online advertising exchange platform with the largest network of Web publishers and advertisers on the mainland. 'Sellers with storefronts on Taobao can promote their products through Alimama's network of Web publishers,' said Alibaba spokesman Christina Splinder. 'The 80 million registered users of Taobao could be a huge customer base of Web publishers on Alimama.' Boosted by increasing internet users on the mainland, Taobao's transaction volume grew 150 per cent last year to 43 billion yuan (HK$49.1 billion), and is on track to double this year, according to the current volume of about 300 million yuan a day. 'There is a lot of synergy between the two businesses that can be unleashed,' chairman Jack Ma Yun said in a statement. Taobao has more than 1,000 staff and Alimama several hundred. Despite its free service, Taobao broke even last month, thanks to advertising income, Mr Ma said. Analysts have expected Alibaba to separately list the unit or inject it into Hong Kong-listed Alibaba.com once Taobao is profitable.