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A mobile phone screen shows the Taobao app displaying the Singles' Day shopping festival promotion, in a street in Shanghai, 2017. Photo: SCMP

Alibaba’s Taobao jumps on short video bandwagon, launches stand-alone app to drive e-commerce

Taobao’s Lu Ke app comes amid an explosion in popularity for short video apps in China


Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao is making a move into short video, launching its own stand-alone app aimed at letting users show off their goods to each other on the consumer-to-consumer platform.

The app – called “Lu Ke” in Mandarin (which plays on the English word “Look”) – was officially available on app stores last week. The short video app lets users upload videos in different categories, such as travel, food and even beauty, and includes a question and answer section where users can answer questions submitted by viewers.

Product listings from Taobao can also be included in the video, so that viewers who wish to purchase the item after viewing the short video can click to be redirected to the item on Taobao immediately.

An Alibaba spokeswoman did not immediately respond to queries about the Lu Ke short video app.

Taobao’s Lu Ke app comes amid an explosion in popularity for short video apps in China, with apps like Douyin (also known as Tik Tok internationally) and Tencent-backed Kuaishou topping download charts both at home and in overseas markets. Companies such as Tencent and Baidu have also jumped on the bandwagon, launching their own versions of short video apps called Weishi and Nani respectively.

The number of monthly active users for short video apps in China doubled in 2017, from 203 million at the beginning of the year to 414 million by year end, according to the China Internet Report co-authored by the South China Morning Post, its online tech news site Abacus and San Francisco-based venture capital firm 500 Startups.

E-commerce companies like Taobao and have been experimenting with using video to engage and attract buyers to their platforms. Both companies have included live-streaming functions into their apps, allowing merchants to show potential buyers their wares and even offer discounts while interacting with viewers in real-time. Both have also launched short video functions within the e-commerce platforms.

Taobao president Jiang Fan said in an interview with Chinese tech media outlet 36Kr that it is possible for video to take up 90 per cent of Taobao’s content in future.

While apps like Douyin and Kuaishou are popular among general users, some of whom are hoping their videos will make them an internet celebrity, apps such as Lu Ke appear to be geared towards merchants and the small portion of buyers who simply want to show off their purchases from Taobao.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.