Due Diligence
11
July 2014

Revealed - Taobao Shop Fake Sales Scam

A recent unusual experience with a Taobao shop helped China Checkup’s staff lift the lid on the dodgy deliveries scam used to fake their sales data

Taobao is China’s leading online C2C shopping website (it is similar to eBay) and is operated by Alibaba Group. It is the domestic version of Alibaba’s Aliexpress platform.

An Unexpected Delivery

At home last weekend my wife received a small parcel delivered to our home in Shanghai.

My first reaction was to ask “What have you bought this time?” and hers was to protest “I have no idea what this is, I haven’t bought anything”!

The small parcel was addressed to her and needed signing for. Keen to find out what was in the package, she happily obliged and signed the delivery guy’s form.

Strange Contents

The parcel contained 2 hand-scribbled notes which appeared to contain lists of phone numbers and product codes. None of the contents were familiar to her.

Here is a photo of the innocuous looking package she received:

Parcel received from the Taobao shop

And here is what it contained:

Random scribbles

Random Scribbles

Looking at the content and having no idea what it was and why she had received it we both felt a bit uneasy – what was going on? What did it all mean?

A little freaked out, she turned to Baidu, China’s leading search engine, in order to find out what was going on.

She found a helpful article which explained an unusual practice in which a Taobao shop would send random parcels in order to boost their sales figures. Maybe this was behind the mystery.

Time to Investigate

Although very faint, the sender of the parcel had recorded their address and telephone number on the shipping document.

Utilizing China Checkup’s company verification techniques, we were able to use this information to establish that the parcel had been sent from an office registered to a company in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

 From this we were able to identify a Taobao shop registered to the company that was selling automobile accessories.

A Closer Look at Their Taobao Shop

Recently established, this company’s Taobao shop was selling a wide range of car accessories.

We sorted their products by quantity sold and this set of car seat covers immediately caught our attention:

This relatively expensive product had 47 items sold and 187 comments

Take a closer look and you will notice that this item had supposedly been sold 47 times and received 187 comments.

Meanwhile, the website’s second best seller – some rather attractive bamboo air purifiers for just ¥4 – had racked up just 8 sales and no comments.

Let’s take a closer look at those car seat covers:

A delightful set of car seat covers available in 3 colours

We then took a look at sales history for the car seat covers which documents the supposed “sales” of the item they had achieved:

List of supposed recent purchases of the car seat cover set

We can conclude that one of the orders listed above was likely related to the parcel we received, even if we couldn’t be sure which one.

So Why Did the Taobao Shop Send the Random Parcel?

When consumers are deciding which shop to purchase a product from they usually like to choose the supplier with a proven track record of sales. This offers a big incentive to a Taobao shop to find ways to artificially boost their sales.

In order to discourage this, Taobao’s system is sensibly setup to require proof of delivery before an online shop can register a sale.

But for more expensive items the cost of delivering a random parcel (approximately ¥6) is obviously still worth paying in order to boost their sales and reputation.

In this instance my partner had given this proof by signing for receipt of a parcel.

Suspicions Confirmed

In the end, we called the Taobao shop in question to ask them why they had sent us the weird parcel.

The lady taking the call claimed that she wasn’t responsible for this practice but admitted that her colleague had been posting things to people.

She reassured us that we had nothing to worry about and ended the call.

Where they got my partner’s name and address from we can only speculate…

This story highlights the issue of personal data security in China and how companies seek to profit from it’s lack of controls.

Further reading