Lucas Lu, a former Alibaba executive, built an online marketplace app in the U.S. with features similar to those of Taobao. The approach is working.

Not many people remember that eBay Inc. was the first online marketplace in China and the largest one before 2003. However, Alibaba Group’s marketplace Taobao, a late participant, disrupted eBay’s market in China by allowing sellers to list their products without any charges. Alibaba reported the total purchases on Taobao and Tmall had topped $448 billion in 2015.

If the way of Taobao wins in China, it also could succeed in the United States.

Keeping this in mind, Lucas Lu, a former Alibaba executive and a graduate of Southern Methodist University, created 5miles LLC in Texas and launched mobile app 5miles in January 2015. The app aims to provide a simple-to-use platform for small businesses and individuals in the U.S. to sell products and services to local consumers.

“Most of our management team has a China background, with many years of working experience in the U.S.” a spokesman at 5miles says, “We think U.S. consumers also need a Taobao-like marketplace because it is easier to use and free to sell.” 

The marketplace has enjoyed a successful debut. More than 6 million users, most of them in the U.S., have downloaded 5miles. Total transactions topped $1 billion in 2015 according to the company.


In terms of downloads, the app recently was No. 6 in the shopping category in U.S. on the Android platform, according to mobile data company App Annie. 

5miles allows users to record their speech to describe their products so they are able to list goods even quicker.

Many of 5miles’ features are similar to those on Taobao. 5miles is a free marketplace where anyone can sell products without paying fees. The app also offers an instant message function so sellers can communicate with consumers at any time.  

5miles also offers social media features so consumers can follow a seller’s account to get new products and other promotion information from that seller. Most products on 5miles are used, including cars and furniture, however many merchants sell new products, the company says. One of the larger sellers on 5miles sold 500 cars in about five months. Most transactions on 5miles are local and pay-by-cash, but the company says it may add shipping and payment options within the app feature soon. 


“To make a profit, we may start selling top-listing position to merchants as ads,” the spokesman says.

5miles also started to test in several international markets, including the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Mexico and Australia. The company says consumers in more than 100 countries have downloaded its app.

For more Chinese e-commerce data, please click here for Internet Retailer 2015 China 500

Follow Frank Tong on Twitter @FrankTongIR