Swift Guanxi in Online Marketplaces: The Role of Computer-Mediated Communication Technologies
Over the last decade, China's online marketplaces have experienced rapid evolution. The first, EachNet, was established in 1999. EachNet was acquired in 2002 by eBay and renamed "eBay China." The second, TaoBao, owned by Alibaba, China's largest business-to-business portal, went online in April 2003. TaoBao replaced eBay China as market leader in 2004. eBay China was eventually sold to TOM Online in December 2006, and then renamed back to EachNet. According to recent reports (CNNIC 2011),
... (CNNIC 2011), TaoBao is currently the leading online marketplace in China with a 95.5 percent market share compared to EachNet's current 0.1 percent. Other smaller players, such as PaiPai, account for the remainder of the market. TaoBao allows two transaction models: buy it now and auctions. Products are initially displayed on TaoBao's website in a random order, but buyers can simultaneously sort both products and sellers using various criteria. Each seller can customize the website storefront with a unique name ( Figure A1 ), which can be located by TaoBao's internal search engine. Although store designs vary widely with respect to background, pictures, colors, product listings, and text descriptions, all store fronts indicate the online IM status, feedback score, and buyers' average score on the seller's service performance. TaoBao's features are similar to those of many online marketplaces. However, in stark contrast to eBay and most online marketplaces, 1 TaoBao deliberately developed and encouraged the use of a direct buyer-seller CMC tool, WangWang. While WangWang is functionally similar to other IM tools such as MSN, Skype, and Tencent's QQ, it is not a standalone application, but a platform-embedded tool that shares TaoBao's login IDs (Figures A1 and A2) . When buyers see a product they want to purchase , they can simultaneously see if the product's seller is online in WangWang, as indicated by a bi-colored icon (blue = online; grey = offline). Products can also be sorted according to the seller's online status. The buyer can then initiate an IM communication with the seller with a single click from TaoBao's website. Finally, both buyers and sellers can view each other's credit numbers shown in WangWang, links to each other's TaoBao webpage, as well as transaction reminders and records in WangWang. 1 CMC tools embedded in eBay include a message box (i.e., "Questions and answers about this item") and a feedback system. Instant communication between buyers and sellers using a tool like Skype is not available on eBay. MIS Quarterly Vol. 38 No. 1-Appendices/March 2014 A1 Ou et al./The Role of CMC Technologies Notes: At the top of this web page, buyers can search products inside the seller's store using the embedded search engine. The rest of this web page shows detailed information about a particular product, including the seller's information (on the left-hand side), the product picture (in the middle), and detailed product descriptions, delivery and payment information (on the right-hand side). Notes: The web page on the left-hand side of the screen shot shows the product listing from different sellers, including information about product names, seller names, and online/offline status of sellers. TaoBao's search engine is shown in the top left corner of this web page, which can sort the product listing by keywords, price range, fixed or bidding prices, and WangWang online status. On the right-hand side of the screen shot, the WangWang tool, which can be used by both buyers and sellers, is shown. The middle screen shot shows the contact list in WangWang and the right-hand side screen shot shows the "My TaoBao" functions. Figure A2. Screen Shots of the Instant Messenger (IM) Tool on TaoBao A2 MIS Quarterly Vol. 38 No. 1-Appendices/March 2014 Ou et al./The Role of CMC Technologies Notes: The left-hand side shows detailed product descriptions such as product name, price, size, pictures, and delivery/payment methods. The right-hand side displays the buyers' and the seller's discussions on one focal product via the message box. Figure A3. Screen Shots of the Message Box on TaoBao Notes: This webpage is a screen shot of a seller's feedback system that displays the seller's name, the buyers' name, the sold product, and the buyers' qualitative comments regarding the purchase experience. The comments as shown on this particular web page were all positive with warm feedback from the buyers.