A Guide to Taobao Shopping: 8 Must-Know Tips

Discover the ultimate guide to shopping on Taobao. Learn how to navigate the platform, find the best deals, and avoid scams. Start saving money today!

Taobao is a leading consumer-to-consumer (C2C) online marketplace in China, offering a vast array of products including clothes, accessories, electronics, and computer parts at incredibly low prices. The challenge for international shoppers is that the site is entirely in Chinese, posing a language barrier for those unfamiliar with the language.

Don’t worry, we’re here to guide you. In this article, we’ll explore 8 essential tips for shopping on Taobao. We’ll discuss how to navigate the Chinese website, understand the feedback system, use a Taobao agent for overseas purchases, and other important considerations to ensure a smooth shopping experience.

Communication and Translation

The entire Taobao platform, including navigation and product listings, is in Chinese. A common solution is to use Google Translate, but be aware that the translations can sometimes be confusing or inaccurate.

Screenshot of Taobao's website with translation

On a positive note, some sellers recognize the international market and incorporate English keywords in their listings. This means when searching for global brands like “Nexus 7” or “iPhones,” you’re likely to find relevant products in the search results.

Improving Your Search Results

Similar to other search engines, Taobao allows you to refine your search using various criteria such as Popularity, Sales, Seller’s Reputation, Newest Additions, and Price.

Different sorting options on Taobao

Additionally, there are specific seller-related filters you can apply, including Consumer Protection, 7-day Return Policy, Genuine Product, WangWang Live Chat, Overseas Product, Cash on Delivery, and Accepts Credit Card.

Seller-related filters on Taobao

In the product listings, you can often select options (like color or other specifications), as indicated in the example below, marked 1. You can also check the available stock of the item, marked 2.

Options and stock information in a Taobao listing

Selecting a Trustworthy Taobao Seller

Choosing a reliable seller on Taobao is akin to shopping on eBay; you want a seasoned and trustworthy seller. You can gauge this by looking at the number of transactions they have completed and successfully fulfilled. This information is typically available on the seller’s profile. For example, the seller shown below has processed 129 units of an item and successfully delivered 99 of them (marked 1).

Sellers receive rankings from buyers, with the levels being hearts, diamonds, blue crowns, and finally yellow crowns. A seller must accumulate five of each rank before advancing to the next. The seller in the example below has achieved 2 blue crowns (marked 2), indicating a high rating.

Seller rating and transaction details on Taobao

Additionally, you can check when the seller opened their shop and their overall positive feedback percentage.

Understanding the Feedback System

Customer feedback and reviews are crucial for making informed decisions on most online shopping platforms, and Taobao is no different. At the bottom of each product page, you can view feedback from previous buyers.

Products are rated by customers who have previously purchased them. Ratings are given on a scale of 1 to 5 stars; a 5-star rating usually indicates high quality.

Buyer feedback and star ratings on a Taobao product

If a product lacks reviews, you can view the seller’s overall feedback by clicking on their rating symbol (heart, diamond, or crown). Scrolling down reveals feedback from customers who have purchased any item from the seller, helping you gauge their reliability.

Overall feedback and rating of a Taobao seller

Payment Methods and Considerations

Transactions on Taobao are conducted in Chinese Yuan (RMB). Payment options include Alipay (similar to PayPal), online banking, or purchasing a recharge slip for your Taobao account at a Chinese post office.

Alipay payment option

Besides the item and shipping fees, additional costs may include insurance, handling of sensitive items, payment fees, and commissions. It’s also important to consider the currency exchange rate.

Shipping Considerations

Before completing a purchase, ensure the seller can ship internationally or offers mail forwarding services. Many Taobao sellers do not offer international shipping due to language barriers and lack of experience.

China Post shipping option

While some sellers might speak English and accept international or online payments, these services often come with additional costs. Be aware of your country’s shipping restrictions, including items that are restricted or taxable upon entry.

Shipping Duration Expectations

Shopping on Taobao can be similar to purchasing a low-cost item from China on eBay, particularly in terms of delivery time. After payment, your item might take 7-40 working days to arrive. Typically, items take about three weeks to enter the country and another week to clear customs. Then, a few more days are needed for local postal delivery. Thus, a reasonable estimate for delivery is 3-5 weeks.

The shipping time also varies based on your chosen delivery method. Options like DHL can deliver within 5-10 days, EMS (China Post) may take 10-28 days, and China Air Mail could take 14-40 days. Faster delivery generally incurs higher costs.

Utilizing a Taobao Agent

For buyers outside China, employing a Taobao agent is strongly recommended. These agents facilitate communication, payment, and shipping between you and Taobao sellers. They can even assist in searching for products and explaining item details.

An intermediary service provided by a Taobao agent

As Taobao gains popularity internationally, you might find a local Taobao agent in your region, potentially saving on shipping costs as the agent consolidates orders in their location before forwarding them to you.

Agent Payment Terms

Taobao agents have varied pricing structures for their services. Some might apply a higher exchange rate and keep the difference, while others may charge a percentage of the total purchase or a flat service fee. Common payment methods include PayPal or direct bank transfers.

Shipping by Agents

Some agents have contacts that expedite shipping procedures, potentially speeding up delivery. Others consolidate purchases from multiple customers to reduce shipping costs. For those living outside China, using an agent can simplify the shopping process, ensuring a hassle-free experience.