Taobao gears up for Double 11 with AI shopping assistant

It is now just over two weeks away from the biggest event of China’s retail calendar and its inventors at Alibaba are getting ready for a historic occasion. This year will see Double 11 bargain hunters receive a helping hand from AI for the first time.

Taobao’s integrated AI model, Taobao Wenwen, relies on its generative capabilities and text understanding to answer queries like “best mobile phone to buy?” or “most value-for-money lipstick?”. Wenwen can then generate detailed product recommendations in text or video format or suggest further questions to narrow down the search. Having first launched in September, it is still in beta testing mode currently.

As part of the Double 11 special promotional period, the AI shopping assistant will combine product information with tips on the best discounts, giving shoppers added confidence in their decision-making.

Taobao Wenwen is the first large-scale consumer-side implementation of Tongyi Qianwen, the proprietary large language model developed by Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Group. Alibaba eventually plans to incorporate Tongyi Qianwen across all user scenarios as part of its “AI-driven” strategy for the future.

In a conversation with Beijing Business Daily last month, Taobao Product Manager Ga Nan revealed that the idea is for Taobao Wenwen to expand the e-commerce giant into a shopping guide, cutting out the need for social commerce sites where peer-to-peer recommendation (“seeding”) is king.

“We hope that soon, users will no longer go to Xiaohongshu, Baidu, and Douyin to search for recommendations before purchasing goods, but will just come straight to Taobao.”

There may be a long way to go before this is close to becoming a reality. “Taobao Wenwen is not emotionally intelligent as yet, and the output results do not represent Taobao’s official recommendations of goods or content,” reported Shanghai-based financial publication Yicai Global shortly after beta testing began in September.

Other online reviews note that the recommendations given by the AI assistant sometimes do not correspond to the question asked and that the overall quality and coherence of the content need to be improved.

Only 5 million people have used Taobao Wenwen so far, and many more will be needed to train it before it becomes a trustworthy sidekick on par with the hive mind of Xiaohongshu’s 190 million monthly active users. Nevertheless, this year’s Double Eleven will be a unique experience for Taobao users – as long as they take the leap and give Wenwen a go.


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