Brands that want to integrate Tmall/Taobao data into their own systems have a very hard time finding a solution. Taobao is the largest and most advanced ecommerce platform in the world, yet  they seem so far behind in making data available to sellers.

There isn’t any convenient third party app that can bring in all the data from a Tmall store: Orders, logistics, CPC, CPM, traffic, performance, inventory etc. Existing apps in Taobao’s app marketplace can each only cover one individual silo of data. Very few of them provide direct integration with enterprise systems. Custom solutions exist, but they are costly, hard to manage and far from being robust.

This is actually chaos by design. At the core of all these issues is the fact that…

Taobao’s Open API platform isn’t really so open

Note: An API is just something that can feed data straight into your system without needing employees to go fetch data.

Taobao’s Open API website  shows that APIs do exist for just about any piece of data. It’s just that they are guarded heavily and becoming less and less available.

There are countless types of data: Transaction data, order data, logistics data, product listing data etc. If they were all available, any developer can simply feed the data to your ERP system.

The problem is that every single API has an approval process that makes it very difficult for store owners to gain access.


Why would Alibaba do this?

The approval process favors independent software vendors (ISVs) that are publishing apps on the Taobao app marketplace. They want apps that help all stores, not just one.

But really, it is a mechanism of control. The approval process makes sure that no single entity has access to too many APIs. They each have access to a specific silo of data, eg: logistics data only, but no access to ad spend data. This is why there’s no app that can provide a 360 view of your store.

There’s also quality control. They reject API access even to legitimate software vendors if they don’t have enough experience or capital. By doing so, they keep a cleaner app ecosystem and reduce communication overhead.

In the end, they have complete control over their data and the app marketplace.

But that means store owners are stuck with using various web-based apps and their tech teams don’t have the option to build a solution themselves.


So can you still even integrate?

Custom integration is an option, but it all depends on what you want to achieve. You can collaborate with established ISVs to integrate with your system, but based on the specific goals you want to accomplish, the costs can vary tremendously.

You may want to be able to manage logistics through your company’s ERP system so that you use your existing processes to handle all warehouse shipments for your Tmall store.

You may want your system to receive all data on store activity so you can use your internal systems for reporting and analytics. Tracking store activities can cover a wide range of data: Sales, order progress, products, logistics, ad spend, traffic performance, customer service, cashflow in Alipay.

You’ll also need your tech expert to specify how your system needs to receive the data.

Potential partner ISVs will need to know every detail above and every piece of data will cost time and money; some more than others.

If you’re seeking to integrate with Tmall, it’s vital that you clearly identify and prioritize your organization’s goals clearly. Some goals may not be worth the price tag.

We have helped brands integrate some parts but it has always proved to be more difficult than what brands anticipate. Your system’s business logic may not even be compatible with Tmall’s processes at all. So it’s worth understanding the real life process of how things work for every aspect you want to integrate.


How does everyone else do it?

In China, almost everyone uses the web-based tools exclusively. In most cases, it’s not worth spending a ton of money on sophisticated integrations with a B2C platform at a very granular level.

Most stores use a few popular web-based ERP systems and analytics tools. The Google Analytics equivalent in Taobao is called SYCM. It tells you most things, but not anything on ad spend. Those have their own independent terminals.

All of these are in Chinese only, which is why there are so many manually created excel and powerpoint reports on Tmall being passed around. Someone goes into multiple apps, downloads and copy/pastes data into an English template for their overseas HQ to see.

It is time intensive, keeps many people busy and often distracts teams from focusing on activities that build the brand and increase sales.

This is why we’ve made the decision to use business intelligence tools to replace 1990s style excel/powerpoint reports. Simple intuitive dashboards for non Chinese speakers, but still packed with all the data points that can be exported with two clicks.