We present to you an introductory guide to the online shopping bargain paradise that is Taobao. You’d (almost) never want to step out to shop again.
Table of contents
- Getting started with Taobao
- Registering for an account
- Search for the products you want
- Add items to your shopping cart
- Choose the items to pay for
- Enter your delivery address
- Choose your shipping method
- Make payment
- Use a third party forwarder for urgent items
- Consolidate your shopping, but don’t take too long
- Make use of the right credit card to earn perks
What is Taobao?
Taobao is China’s premier online marketplace that sells everything and anything you could possibly ever need or want. When we say everything, we mean it — from clothing and fashion, jewellery and accessories, mobile phones, electronics and accessories, to household essentials such as decorations, houseware and even large furniture pieces like sofas, cabinets and beds.
Is it safe to buy from Taobao?
The massive online shopping marketplace is owned by Alibaba Group, and regularly features in record-breaking ecommerce sales, such as 2019’s Singles Day sale which saw the Group reap a new high of US$38.4 billion in total (for comparison, America’s Black Friday that same year saw $7.4 billion in sales).
As the crown jewel in Alibaba’s portfolio, Taobao is said to capture up to 85% of all ecommerce traffic in China’s Tier 1 and 2 cities. While built to cater to its domestic market, Taobao has gained so much popularity and traction around the world that the website is now opening up to direct shoppers from international territories.
Impressive sales numbers aside, there’s one that you’ve got to remember. You are dealing with sellers from China, which has an admitted problem with counterfeits and fake goods. As always, let good sense prevail and if your bargain (especially for branded items) seems too good to be true, it probably is.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with trawling Taobao for everyday use items (like a water bottle, for example) that works as intended, but are cheaper.
Does Taobao have an English version?
Well, yes, kind of. In a bid to cater to international shoppers and introduce foreign brands to Chinese buyers, Alibaba launched Tmall, a popular shopping site in its own right. However, Tmall is set up as a business-to-consumer platform, which means you are buying from official stores or agents.
Taobao, however, remains a consumer-to-consumer platform, which means you are dealing directly with merchants and manufacturers. Shopping on Taobao, then, is a heady, endless parade of unique products, latest innovations, made-in-China generics and patent-skirting alternatives, mostly available at eye-poppingly low prices.
Alas, Taobao is not available in any other language besides Mandarin, so non-speakers will have to cross some hurdles before they can dive into the endless paradise of cheap online shopping. But, hey, we’re here to help.
How to shop on Taobao
Taobao is available on both desktop and mobile versions, and works like any other online shopping platform.
You’ll need to register for an account (or log in if you already have one), then browse or search for the items you want. You can read products details on dedicated product or store pages and add items to your shopping cart. If necessary, you can also contact the seller for detailed information on the product before you make a purchase.
Once ready, you can check out, choosing the items you want to pay for in your cart. After that, you can choose your shipping methods, and then you simply have to wait for your items to be delivered.
Here’s a short visual guide on how to get started with Taobao.
Getting started with Taobao
This is the main page that will greet you when you type in taobao.com on your browser address bar.
1. Search bar: This is where you will enter the products you want, in Mandarin
2. Login/Register: Click 免费注册 to register for an account (see next section)
3. Shopping cart: Click on it to go directly to a list of products you have saved
4. Popular items, sorted by categories: The icons on the left hint at the different categories
Before you can start shopping, you’ll need to register for an account. If you already have an account, click 登录 to get to the login page.
Registering for an account
In the top right, there’s an option to switch to English. So click it to make your life easier. Then follow the on-screen prompts to complete registering for your account.
Search for the products you want
Once you get back to the main page, you should be automatically logged in. Check the upper right hand area — it should now display your username instead of 登录/免费注册。
Enter the name of the product you want to buy. For the most part, you will need to enter your search terms in Mandarin, but entering English brand names may also work.
Entering ‘LAMY’ (a popular pen brand from Germany) in the search bar on the main page produced the following listings. You may have to scroll down past some Chinese text (mainly filtering options to fine-tune your results) to get to the listings.
Add items to your shopping cart
Click on a listing and you will be brought to a product page. Here, you can view available options and scroll down for detailed information about the product or the seller. You may also find product shots that give you a better view of the item.
Make your selections to customise your product (if available). When done, click the orange button with the shopping cart icon and 加入购物车to add the item to your cart.
You will be presented with a checkout screen, shown as below. If you’re ready to proceed, click the orange button on the lower right 去购物无车结算 (go to checkout). Otherwise, click the button next to it to continue shopping.
Choose the items to pay for
When you check out, you will be presented with a list of items in your shopping basket. Selecting the items you want to pay for will display your total bill in the lower right corner. Click 结算 to proceed.
Your items are sorted by seller, then item. To select an item, you simply need to check the box next to the item’s photo. To select all items, check the box 全选 in the grey bar to the lower left of this page.
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Enter your delivery address
Next, enter your delivery details. The page that pops up by default is for China postal address. If you are using a third-party forwarder, this is where you will enter your China address. Otherwise, click on 切换 in the upper right to switch countries.
Click 新加坡 for Singapore, then click on 确定 at the bottom of the page.
Next, you can fill in your delivery address. There are English prompts to help you out on this page (yay!).
When you click on the first field titled (Division), you will be presented with a drop-down menu of districts in Singapore. Just pick one that is the closest match to your delivery address. Also, be sure to change the country prefix to +65 for Singapore when entering your mobile number. When done, tick the check box (to make that your default address) and click the blue button at the bottom.
Choose your shipping method
On the next screen you will need to choose your shipping method. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see this — 跨境配送方式. There are three standard delivery options that Taobao employs. From left to right, they are:
- 官方集运-海运 (Direct consolidated delivery — sea freight)
- 官方集运-空运 (Direct consolidated delivery — air freight)
- 官方直送 (Direct air delivery)
In our example above, the only shipping option available is sea freight. An estimate is also displayed, in this case, about RMB 22.
Once you have selected your shipping options, scroll down and click the orange button in the lower right.
Next, you will be brought to Alipay where you will be prompted to enter a password for your Alipay account. When you registered for a Taobao account earlier, an Alipay account was also created for you, using the same user ID.
Enter a strong password in the first field, repeat the same password in the second field to verify, and click the orange button to proceed.
Next, enter your credit card number. Don’t forget to verify your purchase price in the top right corner. As you can see in the screenshot below, you can pay for your Taobao shopping using credit cards by Visa, Mastercard or JCB (that has strategic alliances with Discover network, UnionPay, American Express, and RuPay merchants around the world).
After you click continue, you will be brought to another page to enter your billing address. When done, press the blue button at the bottom of the page 确认付款 to make your payment.
Congratulations, you’ve just made your very first Taobao purchase!
Taobao keyword cheat sheet
To help you explore Taobao’s offerings, here’s a keyword cheat sheet. Simply copy and paste the corresponding Mandarin terms into the search bar.
|Short-sleeved/Long-sleeved/Sleeveless men’s top||短袖/长袖/无袖 衣男|
|Korean style/Western style||韩版/欧美风|
|Office and stationery|
|Seat cushion/Back support||椅子坐垫/椅子靠垫|
|Home and pets|
|Food or water bowl||宠物食物碗|
|Cat food/Dog food||猫粮/狗粮|
Taobao shipping options to Singapore
|Method||Rates||Delivery time (approx)|
|Direct consolidated delivery — sea freight||Small items (0 to 30kg)|
– RMB 22 for first 1kg
– RMB 9.4 per subsequent 1kg
– 0 to 0.5 CMB = RMB 230
– 0.5 to 1 CBM = RMB 460/CBM
– 1 CBM and above = RMB460/CBM
|15 to 30 days|
|Direct consolidated delivery — air freight||Doorstep delivery: |
– RMB 24 for first 0.5kg- RMB 15 for subsequent 0.5kg
– RMB 22 for first 0.5kg
– RMB 15 for subsequent 0.5kg
|Direct air delivery||Doorstep delivery: |
– RMB 24 for first 0.5kg
– RMB 14.5 for subsequent 0.5kg
– RMB 22 for first 0.5kg
– RMB 14.5 for subsequent 0.5kg
Taobao offers three shipping options for Singapore. There’s also a fourth option — self shipping, which requires the help of a third-party forwarder such as ezbuy.
Both direct air delivery and consolidated air freight have virtually the same rates. But the consolidated option will combine your orders and ship them as one. They may also repack bulky packages into smaller ones to lighten your overall delivery. This can help you squeeze out a bit more savings in shipping fees, especially if you make multiple purchases over a period of time.
As for sea freight, it’s meant to deliver savings when shipping large and bulky products, such as beds or sofas or dining table sets. This is because instead of calculating weight, shipping costs for large items are counted according to volume (hence CBM or cubic meter measurements). The drawback is that sea freight takes much longer to ship, anywhere from 15-30 days (or even more).
A note for shoppers — there’s no way to get a confirmed delivery timeline when buying from Taobao, so it may not be the best option if you need your items urgently. It is customary to check with the seller for an estimated delivery timeline after you have paid for your order.
Is it cheaper to buy from Taobao or ezbuy?
ezbuy is an online shopping marketplace that lists Taobao items for sale, and offers a shopping concierge service, liaising on your behalf to buy and deliver the items you want.
All these come at a cost, though. Ezbuy (and other Taobao agents) needs to cover their costs and make a profit and that usually comes in the form of service fees, price markups, or possibly bulk purchase arrangements with logistics partners.
Logically, it would seem that buying directly from the source and cutting out any middlemen would result in the cheapest purchase. However, given that we are not privy to the exact business arrangements between Taobao sellers and agents, and just taking into account the sheer number of products and merchants out there, it would frankly be quite difficult to say for sure which option is cheaper.
In the end, half the excitement of online shopping lies in the thrill of the hunt. And a bargain is a bargain, no matter which shopping platform you find it on.
Tips and tricks to get more out of your Taobao experience
Use a third party forwarder for urgent items
If you really must have your Taobao shopping delivered in a hurry, you might want to use a third-party forwarder instead. You can get your seller to make a delivery to your forwarder’s China address, and then have your forwarder deliver your parcel.
Consolidate your shopping, but don’t take too long
Consolidating your purchases into one parcel, instead of having different parcels delivered, can save you quite a bit in shipping fees. But do note that holding your parcel for too long will incur additional fees, as you are taking up precious warehouse space. With Taobao, you will be allowed 20 days free holding time. Try not to hold your Taobao parcels longer than that to control your shipping fees.
Make use of the right credit card to earn perks
All Taobao orders are transacted in renminbi, which means they will automatically count as foreign transactions. So make sure to use the right credit cards to pay for your Taobao shopping to earn extra perks.
For example, both the DBS Altitude Visa Signature Card and the Citi PremierMiles Card award 2 miles per dollar on all foreign transactions, making them a good choice. Meanwhile, the Standard Chartered Spree Credit Card gives you 3% cashback on all foreign transaction spends as well as on vPost charges.
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By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.