January 10, 2014, 4:52 PM

Apple sets up shop on a big Chinese web marketplace

Apple, which has long had its own online store in China, now is selling on Tmall.com, one of two online shopping malls operated by Alibaba, China’s leading e-commerce operator.

Frank Tong

Senior editor, China

Lead Photo

A screenshot of the Apple Store on Tmall

Apple Inc. has opened an online store on Tmall.com, one of the two big web marketplaces operated by Alibaba Group, China’s leading e-commerce operator. The U.S. consumer electronics brand made the move this month, just days ahead of today’s big annual sale of Apple devices in China.

Apple has had its own online store in China, Apple.com/cn, since 1998, and is No. 11 in the Internet Retailer Asia 500, which estimates Apple’s online sales in the Asia-Pacific region at $1.1 billion.

However, Apple has struggled in China, with iPhone sales growing only at a 5% annual rate last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in July 2013.

Many international brands sell on Tmall, which is designed to give brands more control over their stores than merchants have on Alibaba’s larger Taobao marketplace, where millions of small companies sell and price competition is fierce. Among the 70,000 sellers on Tmall are such foreign brands as Gap Inc. and Microsoft Corp. of the United States and Japan’s Uniqlo Co. Ltd. 

The value of merchandise sold on Tmall.com exceeded 200 billion yuan ($32.8 billion) in 2012, according to Alibaba. Sales on Taobao were some 800 billion yuan ($131 billion).

While Apple has operated its own online store for years, some Chinese consumers have complained on social networks that they can’t get their questions answered by Apple representatives online, a feature they’re used to finding on many Chinese retail sites. That kind of online service is standard on Tmall and Apple is providing real-time support on its Tmall storefront, apple.tmall.com.

Apple also faces competition from Chinese smartphone makers that are growing quickly and relying heavily on online sales.  For example, Chinese Xiaomi, a smartphone maker that sells primarily via the web, recently announced its sales increased 150% to $5.2 billion in the past year. Xiaomi is No. 51 in the Asia 500. 

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