China’s Alibaba thinks outside the box, and inside the minibus, as Uber tie-up gives online shoppers ‘mobile dressing rooms’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 5:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 6:23pm

E-commerce giant Alibaba is promoting its Taobao marketplace in its home market China this weekend by inviting the public to try on stylish wardrobes in roving minibuses provided by Uber that serve as "mobile dressing rooms".

This is the result of a new tie-up with the car-hailing app after a rash of complaints from Taobao's customers about product quality. 

Users of the Uber app can call the buses for free - if they are fortunate enought to catch one in time - and keep any clothes they like without paying, Taobao said.

A total of three vehicles, each with an interior space of 30 square metres, will patrol three provincial capitals – Guangzhou in southern Guangdong, western China’s Chengdu in Sichuan, and Hangzhou in east China’s Zhejiang – on Saturday and Sunday, the company added. 

“Taobao will see how customers respond to the mobile dressing rooms before deciding whether to roll the programme out on a bigger scale,” a spokesperson told the South China Morning Post on Friday.

Taobao has taken flak from consumers and authorities this year for allowing the sale of counterfeit goods on its sites. More Chinese have been disappointed by the clear disconnect between how products sometimes appear online and out of the delivery box.

The company has moved to address both issues, but the motorised changing rooms make for better headlines. They will each come equipped with stylish clothes, a fitting room, and a designer, the company said, adding that the campaign is partly aimed at promoting young Chinese designers. 

As China’s online shopping boom continues, the total value of transactions in the first quarter hit 3.48 trillion yuan (US$567.49 billion), up 10.1 per cent year-on-year, according to China Internet Watch. 

Alibaba controls about 80 per cent of online shopping revenue in China.

The vehicles can be summoned via Uber’s car-hailing app, a new sub-industry that ranks as the most controversial part of the fledging “sharing” or peer-to-peer economy right now. 

Apps like this and Chinese market leader Didi Kuaidi have attracted a backlash from taxi drivers and a piecemeal government crackdown in China and Hong Kong, which saw seven Uber drivers arrested last week for lacking permits. 

While Beijing banned private car apps in June, other provinces have left the issue untouched as the country’s various cities and regions try to effectively unriddle what amounts at present to a regulatory grey area. 

During the first week of May, authorities raided and closed Uber’s offices in Chengdu and Guangzhou.

Despite the crackdown, Uber has been trying to build trust with the Chinese public by offering on-demand services. 

On July 24, people in Hong Kong were able to get ice creams delivered by Uber drivers during a special one-day promotion. The promotion was free for holders of a certain credit card.

Uber also partnered with China’s top smartphone maker Xiaomi in July to deliver its latest gadgets to buyers within minutes.