Alibaba is holding its second Taobao Maker Festival to celebrate the maker spirit of the young entrepreneurs on the Taobao Marketplace. The event, running from July 8-12, showcased 108 merchants who run their businesses on Taobao.

“14 years ago, when we started Taobao, everybody could run their own store. China is the factory of the world, with no shortage of good quality products. We started to notice the growing trend of the dominant consumers: the post-90 generation,” Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer of Alibaba Group said at the press conference at the festival.

Chinese millenials—dubbed “post-90s” or “post-80s” to denote their decade of birth—now make up more than half of Taobao users.

“Now the post-90 generation have started to open their Taobao stores, and have their own brands. And more than that, they are pursuing their dreams,” Tung said. “About 26% of Taobao merchants at the Taobao Maker Festival are from the post-90s generation.”

The number of merchant participants increased by 50% this year from 2016, a majority of these merchants are first-time participants and almost all are Taobao-native merchants. 

We interviewed three Taobao merchants at Taobao Maker Festival to get a better idea of what inspired them to start their own shops on Taobao. 

Blue Papa (蓝小爸, Lanxiaoba)

Taobao merchant of Blue Papa (蓝小爸, Lanxiaoba) Chen Shuai Shuai (Image Credit: TechNode)

Taobao merchant of Blue Papa (蓝小爸, Lanxiaoba) Chen Shuai Shuai (Image Credit: TechNode)

Running a Taobao shop selling baby clothes, Blue Papa was voted one of the top 5 Taobao shops at the Taobao festival, selected by more than 300,000 people.

Chen Shuaishuai is the post-90s father to his best model—his 3-year-old daughter. They travel around the world, and Chen takes pictures of his daughter while she plays. Before he started his Taobao shop, he was a founder of a photo-sharing startup in Beijing. Because of the bad air quality, he decided to move to Hangzhou, where he sold the company. Last July, he started this Taobao shop for his daughter.

“I saw how my wife was buying clothes for my daughter, and I thought those clothes were not so pretty and not good quality. I tried to find better ones, but I couldn’t find the right place to buy good quality clothes for the younger generation,” Chen told TechNode.

(1) Blue Papa chosen as top 5 Taobao shop, (2) Blue Papa's live streaming (3) Blue Papa's Taobao shop (Image Credit: TechNode)

From left to right: Blue Papa chosen as a top 5 Taobao shop; Blue Papa’s live streaming; Blue Papa’s Taobao shop (Image Credit: TechNode)

When he started, he was a level zero merchant and progressed to level 4 in just one year. A dad doing fashion Taobao mall is kind of a new concept in the market. In 6 months, they went in into top 35 Taobao shops and racked up 10 million RMB ($ 1.4 million) in sales.

“Our sales are really high. Product wise, our cost-quality ratio is really high too. We got attention because there are many post-90 generation fathers, but there aren’t that many doing cool baby wear,” Chen says. “The post-90s generation is now getting older. People born in 1990 are now 27 years old. They like to put things into action; they like doing something that nobody has done before.”

Blue Papa relies on the Taobao ecosystem’s content platforms, including live streaming (淘宝直播) and Weitao (微淘, Taobao merchant’s fan and content platform).

“We do live streaming to promote our product, and have become internet celebrities [wanghong, 网红] ourselves. Me, my wife, and my designer are doing Taobao live streaming. One time, we attracted 120,000 viewers in one go!” he said. “We thought of running a WeChat Public Account. But instead, we focused on Taobao, and I only do WeChat Moments, now posting our activities.”

Plum Blossom Oil (梅花油盐水鸭)

Plum Blossom Oil (梅花油盐水鸭) Chen Jing (Image Credit: TechNode)

The Plum Blossom Oil team (梅花油盐水鸭 / Image Credit: TechNode)

In 2012 Chen Ji opened his Taobao shop. Born in Nanjing, he saw that when people visit Nanjing, there weren’t many good souvenirs available. Nanjing is famous for duck, he explains, and since not everyone eats, or likes duck, he decided to make duck stuffed toys.

Chen Ji says the process was not difficult. He found the designers and the factory, then made prototypes, then put them up on Taobao. He uses WeChat and Weibo as well as offline bazaars and does marketing to promote the products. He didn’t hire wanghong to sell his product, but some people bought his product and then sent it to Chinese celebrities who ended up tagging it on Weibo, which helped increase the salesof his Taobao shop.

“Our traffic is lower than that of clothes shops because we sell souvenirs. The Maker Festival can give us traffic. They will give us more push on traffic and customers to our Taobao shop,” Chen said.

(1) Taobao merchant's data platform Qianniu (千牛),   (2) Plum's traffic, (3) Plum's visitor going up (Image Credit: TechNode)

From left to right: Taobao merchant’s data platform Qianniu (千牛); Plum’s traffic (Image Credit: TechNode)

Chen Ji then showed us app Qianniu (千牛), which provides visitor stats for Taobao shop owners. After his shop was selected as one of 108 Taobao merchants to participate in the Taobao Maker Festival, traffic and the number of visitors soared. When asked why he hasn’t opened a WeChat service account, which is another way to open an e-commerce store, he said Taobao is more mature.

“Taobao has been here for a longer time as a platform. For channels, we thought not many people might buy our product on WeChat. Whether you do a Taobao shop or WeChat service account and sell your product, you have to find a logistics partner. There is no difference there. We wanted to focus on the bigger market,” Chen Ji said.

“There is no cost to open a WeChat service account, but you have to deal with Weidian (微店), a third player to open your e-commerce store on WeChat,” he said, “If you see the famous WeChat service account like Yitiao, they built their e-commerce channel with HTML5 themselves rather than using Weidian.”

Seeed Studio

Shang Cheng, online product director at Seeed (Image Credit: TechNode)

Shuang Cheng, online product director at Seeed (Image Credit: TechNode)

Seeed Studio products on Taobao are hardware modules that the customers can buy and assemble. For Seeed, Taobao makes up only 5% of their sales, and their website Seeedstudio.com brings another 25%. Kickstarter is also one of their channels for hardware sales.

“Maker culture in China is still growing. In the US and Europe, the market is bigger. Now there are a couple of makers’ fairs held in China,” Shuang Cheng, online product director at Seeed told TechNode. “’Maker’ is a broad definition. Makers include entrepreneurs, artists, craft workers, and hardware makers. We want designers to get interested in making hardware, not just making furniture. Making hardware had a higher entry threshold in the past, now it’s lower and we help them make anything they want to build.”

There are products that Seeed started by themselves, but for some products, the idea comes from their clients; Seeed helps them throughout the creation process from building the prototype, to production, and promotion.