I remember at University when I first discovered the beauty of eBay. Hours of studying easily turned into hours of browsing online (don’t worry – I did pass my exams!). Many struggling students used eBay to make some quick cash, score some discount goodies and simply get rid of excess junk. But there’s a whole other world of online ordering in China… and it comes in the form of Taobao.
WHAT IS IT
Taobao literally translates to ‘finding treasure’ in Chinese, and it lives up to its name. This online marketplace is similar to Ebay, but on an even larger scale, with hundreds of millions of product listings available. With super cheap prices, you can score some serious steals and deals, and as we’re so close to China, your goods will usually be delivered in a week or less. There’s one catch though – Taobao is all in Chinese… so if you don’t speak the lingo, it’s going to be a bit of a struggle.
Image sourced here
Here, we’re going to guide you through how to use Taobao, as it can be quite an overwhelming website! Trust us, if you learn the basics, then you’ll definitely reap the rewards. People have been known to decorate their entire homes or plan their whole weddings using Taobao (as seen in the pic above – see here for the proof!). As a website, it might seem messy and crowded with loads of text and icons everywhere, but it’s really not that hard to use once you get the hang of it. Time to focus…
HOW TO USE IT
Image sourced via Pinterest
Step 1 – Translate!
First of all, these are the two things you need to do if you don’t speak Chinese – pop up two tabs on your browser, use one for the actual Taobao website and one for Google translate… very handy! Translate the page that you are actually using for Taobao too, the English version may not make complete sense, but it will feel a little easier to navigate if you don’t speak Chinese.
Step 2 – Register
Time to register! On the homepage, click the top left corner to go to the registration. You can actually register in English, which you’ll then see on the right when you’ve clicked through. All you need to do is input a username, password, email address and mobile number. An activation link will be sent to your email, and you are ready to go! Need more help? Use this handy registration guide for HK users (again, this is in Chinese but either translate it or just take a look at the diagrams for some extra help!). You’ll then be sent a confirmation email…
Click on the big orange button and voilà! You’ll be taken back to Taobao, but this time you’ll have an account. Still a bit confused? This guide has a general overview of the registration process in English but do note that this is for South East Asia users, so the address, choices of payment methods on Alipay and the address on International Parcel Forwarding Service is directed towards Singaporean users. Or check out this awesome guide that is sure to help!
Step 3 – Shop!
Now for the best bit – browsing and shopping! It works pretty simply, you can store items you like in a shopping cart or checkout each product immediately. Just save your products from different shops in your shopping cart and consolidate your orders at the checkout in one go for ease! We would suggest using your other tab with Google Translate to translate basic words from English into Chinese. For example, if you want to search for shoes, translate this into Chinese separately and then copy and paste the Chinese characters into the Taobao search engine. Red shoes? Heels? Do the same! You’ll get a number of filters to narrow down your search too, which is when Google translate comes in extra handy.
Note that prices are always in RMB, so if you’re not used to working with this currency, you might have another tab popped open with a currency exchange so you can convert prices quickly. Also, another very important thing to check is WHO you are buying from… the seller is rated by speed of delivery, service attitude and accuracy of product description. Basically, what you need to look for is the number of crowns that the seller has. This reflects the number of ratings, so the more crowns, the better! Gold Crowns = the best. Blue Crowns = the next best. Diamonds = almost. Hearts = not there yet. Go with sellers who have the most crowns to be extra sure!
So you want to buy something? Click the light orange box on your product to ‘buy now’, or the orange box with a shopping trolley to add it to your cart and keep on shopping…
Step 4 – Buy (create an Alipay account)
Time to buy. Once you’re on the shopping cart page, tick the boxes of the items you want to buy now. If you’re done, click the orange button in the bottom right hand corner to proceed to check out! Fill in all your details in the pop-up then select the red button in the bottom right hand corner to submit the order. This is when you need to decide how you’re going to pay… there are a variety of payment methods on Alipay, a third-party payment platform with secured escrow services, for Hong Kong users (useful!). These include:
- Credit card – Visa, MasterCard and other international credit cards
- PPS – connect to your PPS account and you can pay directly through Alipay
- Octopus – use via smartphones with the NFC function that comes with the Octopus mobile app
- Alipay Card – you can add money into your Alipay account by purchasing top-up vouchers in 7-Eleven
Basically, you need to enter your details again, then click the orange confirm button to create an Alipay account. Now choose one of the tabs for your payment method… if it’s credit card, you’ll see all the credit card icons come up so just select the one you want (credit card is probably easiest!). Click on the orange button to proceed and then you plug in your credit card details.
Step 5 – Delivery
Image sourced via Pinterest
Now, buying on Taobao means that you are taking a certain risk. You can’t see your products beforehand and you can’t try on clothes, so make sure you have a measuring tape next to you if you are looking to buy some new threads as they will have the measurements and sizing on the listing. However, the ease of buying and the range of products make it worth the risk! Here are some top tips you need to know once you’ve bought your items:
- Most merchants will ship their products to Hong Kong, but buyers cover the shipping cost which typically ranges from around $20-50 (HKD) depending on the size of the product.
- Last August, “International Parcel Forwarding Service” (國際海外轉運服務) was launched. This allows you to track your order and also gives you 50% off international shipping costs – score! It allows you to consolidate different orders to the same address in China, which can then be sent off at the same time to your HK address in one go… definitely worth trying this out as it will also save you the hassle of getting the seller to ship your items to Hong Kong! It usually takes 4-6 working days and is delivered direct to your door… Find out more here.
WHAT TO BUY
From clothes and accessories, to home decor and even furniture, you can literally get almost anything on Taobao. The amount of products available can be overwhelming, so the lovely ladies at Alibaba have given us some of their tried and tested recommendations!
- Get some gorgeous Oxford shoes like the ones above in time for autumn at this store. There’s a huge variety of different designs, with different colours and all at reasonable prices considering what you’d pay for the same quality in a store.
- Looking for leather? Look no further than this awesome, cutomisable leather store! Beautiful, high-quality bags in all shapes and sizes are available, and you can even choose what colour and type of fabric you want… there’s a huge range. Check it out here!
- Looking for cosmetics? You’ve got to check out this store. I love these bright pink, ‘Wet n Wild’ matte lipsticks that are only 18 RMB – perfect that pout! I’m also loving the look of these chunky NYX eyeliner pencils with the silky, shimmery finish and range of cool colours.
- Searching for something weird and wonderful? Matty’s store has got lots of unusual and cute products that would make great novelty gifts. From fluffy ‘macaron’ wallets and cushions to night lights and cool umbrellas, this place is full of all things sweet and kitschy.
- Looking for alternative footwear at a low price? Monkeynana store has some awesome sandals and flats that will make you feel like the coolest girl on the block!
Image sourced via Pinterest
We are not claiming that using Taobao is going to be easy, especially if you can’t read Chinese. That’s why we asked the experts at Alibaba Group to give us some essential tips and tricks to using this somewhat complicated site!
- When using Google Chrome to load up the Taobao/Tmall site, a bar will pop-up at the top prompting you to select whether or not to translate the webpage. Click the option to ‘always translate’ from Chinese to English.
- Taobao/Tmall is a big shopping mall, so don’t be too wedded to your search key words, look at the ads and the recommended products to the side and bottom of the page. They sometimes hold great products!
- Search keywords – the more the merrier, even if you are just browsing. Search pencil skirt, cute skirt, A-line skirt, long skirt, OL skirt. OL is the search term used to find anything related to work clothes. It stands for Office Lady. If you search just skirt, you are likely to bring up hundreds of thousands of listings, it will be very unproductive and take a long time to sort through them all.
- There is an instant messaging tool called Ali Wangwang (阿里旺旺) and this is used for communication between buyer and seller (inquiries for price, materials, shipping, etc). Please note that most sellers are Chinese speakers, but they may understand simple English!
- Recommendations – Taobao lives on this. Get stylish friends who are avid Taobao shoppers to recommend you a few stores!
So have a go and who knows, you may turn in to a Taobao queen! Thousands of cheap goodies are just a click away…