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The power of weibo
By Nie Xin

Weibo has exploded in popularity in the past couple of years. The microblogging website allows users to share details about their lives with friends and followers.

Now some weibo users are taking the platform further, expanding beyond posting personal opinions and trivial things to market their businesses.

These so-called weibo stores are increasing at a fast pace as the owners realize they already have a large following of fans who they can target for new products and services.

And the best part is one only needs a smartphone, tablet or computer with Internet access to take advantage of the power of weibo.

Gustav Nieh in his 40s is a well-known pop music producer, songwriter and keyboardist in the Shanghai music scene. Now he is opening a food stall on Dingxi Road after testing his curry recipes on weibo.

Several months ago, Nieh set up a weibo account named Gustav Nieh's Curry and started to sell his homemade curry, a combination of Japanese style and his own creations.

Nieh posted the ingredients, sauces and cooking methods on weibo. He posted pictures and a phone number that people could call for delivery. It quickly attracted many fans due to his respected position within the local music scene.

Other local musicians, who have large weibo followings, gave Gustav Nieh's Curry access to tens of thousands of people. His curry usually sells for 50 yuan (US$7.93) and he sells out most days.

"I saw the pictures of Nieh's curry on weibo and decided to try it by calling the delivery number. The pictures were so attractive and the comments left by other customers made me so eager to have a bite," said Wang Xixi, a local customer. "The curry didn't disappoint me and I recommended it to my friends."

Weibo a place for budding entrepreneurs to test ideas

Nieh says weibo is a great platform to test a new idea because it doesn't cost much.

"Once you learn whether customers like the product and the business is feasible, you can launch it formally," he says.

There are other weibo business success stories that include selling everything from food and clothing to cosmetics and furniture.

Beast Flower is a weibo store with more than 100,000 followers. The shop sells flowers according to customer requests. Cake Story sells handmade delicate cakes for weddings while Majordomo's Life sells dim sum and noodle dishes. The weibo account Home - the Start of Dream sells the services of interior design.

In each store, the founders and owners have interesting stories to share. The weibo platform allows owners to go beyond simply selling stuff. It allows them to post touching and romantic stories that help them connect on an emotional level with followers.

While Nieh used weibo to test his curry idea, others use the website as a variation or extension of online stores such as those on Taobao.com, China's largest online retailer.

Online store extension

Xie Wenxun, a 29-year-old Shanghainese, opened her first weibo store in May to sell handbags made. After starting on weibo, she launched a Taobao store within one month.

"I have some friends working in factories that design and produce handbags," Xie says. "They can provide the bags to me at a very low price. At first I posted the pictures of the bags I own on weibo."

Many friends asked where they could buy the bags. Once they learned her secret, they asked Xie to buy bags for them.

"An idea came to me, 'why don't I open a store to sell those bags online and earn some money'?" she says.

Working as a finance accountant, Xie opened the part-time business. Once she receives new products, she posts pictures immediately at the weibo store and sends them to her followers.

"I know I am one of numerous people on weibo to promote their businesses," she says. "It's such a good platform as it effectively lets you target customers with your latest products. At the same time you can communicate with them and get feedback immediately."

Still, she says weibo has its limitations.

"Weibo is a good way to promote products, but not the best way to complete a transaction, especially for customers who live in other cities. This is why I launched my Taobao store soon after the successful warm-up on weibo," she says.

Taobao offers Alipay, a third party payment system for e-commerce, to ensure the financial security for both the sellers and the buyers, she adds.

Now she runs the two platforms simultaneously. When customers show their interest in the products posted on Xie's weibo account, they are encouraged to inquire about the price and buy them on Taobao, where they can pay online and finish the order request conveniently.

This method is widely used by many online store owners selling fashion products, according to Xie.


Popular weibo stores in Shanghai

Gustav Nieh's curry

Weibo site: http://weibo.com/gustavcurry

This store makes curry rice based on recipes by local musician Gustav Nieh. It has become so popular that it has expanded into a food stall at Lane 6, 1310 Dingxi Rd.

Cost: 50 yuan (US$7.8)


Handmade footware

Weibo site: http://weibo.com/hardcandys

Founded by designers Token and Maggie, the store makes handmade footware, including casual sneakers and leather shoes.

Cost: 300-800 yuan


Xie Wenxun's fashion shop

Weibo site: http://weibo.com/u/1939587300

Taobao store: http://shop72788582.taobao.com/

This store specializes in handbags and women's shoes.

Cost: 200-700 yuan


Handmade cake shop

Weibo site: http://weibo.com/monkeydean

The stores sells beautiful handmade cakes and flowers.

Cost: 120-180 yuan


Iceberg flower shop

Weibo site: http://weibo.com/icebergflora

It avails nicely arranged flowers.

Cost: 40-300 yuan

(Complied by Shi Xiaoguang and Sophy Nie)

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