3 July, 2018
step by step english guide to taobao
step by step english guide to taobao

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Shopping on Taobao

3 July, 2018
step by step english guide to taobao

Looking to shop on Taobao in Hong Kong? With so much available, the site can be a bit of a maze, so we’ve put together a handy guide to help you shop stress-free.

Taobao was once only known for low-quality designer fakes and sad online shopping fails, but it’s now a paradise for savvy shoppers, full of amazing deals and reputable sellers held to the highest scrutiny. Founded by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, this online shopping platform is a treasure trove waiting for you to unearth and spend countless sleepless nights buying things you “must have”. Whist we’re doing our bit to minimise fast fashion and mindless shopping, Taobao stocks absolutely everything you could ever be looking for. Before you think it’s too good to be true, we have to warn you that Taobao is only in Chinese – but we have tips to help you shop on the site in English. Read this step-by-step guide to shopping on Taobao to help you get started on your shopping journey.

Read more: Where to Buy Eco and Ethical Trainers

Understanding the Taobao home page:

Upon reaching Taobao.com, you will be directed to the Hong Kong version of the site (assuming you are accessing the page from Hong Kong). The white bar with the magnifying glass on the right is the search bar, while the column on the left shows categories of goods, which we have translated – clearly shown in pink.

Getting started:

If you are using Google Chrome, we recommend getting the Google Translate Extension. It makes a huge difference when browsing Taobao because it allows you to translate whole web pages instead of copying words and phrases back and forth. We recommend using Chinese (Simplified) instead of Chinese (Traditional) as Taobao and its sellers all use simplified Chinese.

1. Begin by inputting relevant details.

2. Enter the verification code you get as a text message.

3. You’re in!

The first thing to do when you visit Taobao is to create an account, which is free and incredibly easy, since you can register in English. The rest is pretty straightforward – just click on “Register” (免費注冊) on the left of the menu bar at the top, then follow on-screen instructions to create your Taobao and Alipay account in one go.


One could easily spend an entire day clicking through Taobao. It’s dangerously addictive once you get the hang of it. To begin your foray into this whole new world, start by typing what you want to look for in the search bar. You could definitely begin by typing in English keywords, which would give you a decent number of results, but if you’re looking for the real experience, you’ll have to search in Chinese (Google translate is your saviour in this case). Follow us on our journey to buy a laptop stand (not exactly the most exciting thing to buy – but we were on the hunt for one).

Jump to:

Step 1: Searching and browsing
Step 2: Choosing your item
Step 3: Product information, reviews and ratings
Step 4: Buying your item
Step 5: Placing your order
Step 6: Filling in delivery details
Step 7: Shipping options
Step 8: Confirmation
Step 9: Consolidation and Second payment
Step 10: Refunds

Follow our easy steps below…

Step 1: Searching and browsing on Taobao

Begin by typing in the item you want to buy in the search bar, preferably in Chinese (電腦架 instead of laptop stand for us in this case). You will then be presented with a range of filters, which you might find useful to translate by using the aforementioned Google Translate Extension. Filter your searches according to brand, material and more, then sort them by using the sorting tools below:

Comprehensive sorting: Sorts search results according to an average of the following parameters.

Popularity: Sorts search results according to their page views.

Sales volume: Sorts search results according to their number of sales.

Reputation: Sorts search results according to the reputation of sellers from customer reviews and ratings.

Price: Sorts search results according to price, from high to low or from low to high.

Price range: Type in your ideal price range (in RMB, as shown by the) for the item you are searching for.

Sassy Tip: Type in multiple keywords in the search bar to narrow down your results instead of using the filters because sellers usually include keywords in product names instead of sorting products according to filters (eg. instead of “skirt” (短裙), try typing in “high-waisted denim skirt” (高腰牛仔短裙). Also try clicking the Camera icon to upload a photo of what you’re searching for and Taobao will find you visually similar items! It’s quite impressive, though we found out that the search results from this method barely had any reviews and probably weren’t purchased that often.

Quick links to categories:

Women’s Shoes
Summer Essentials
Sports Gear

Or visit this website for a more comprehensive list of Taobao shopping categories.

Sassy Tips:

  • To find better quality products (mainly clothing), type in “外貿” (which means products to be exported) at the end of your search.
  • To find more recently released products, type in the current year e.g. “女装外貿 2018” (womenswear for export 2018) for new womenswear of export quality.
  • Stay away from products that are too cheap. They are usually of very inferior quality and will be a waste of your money, whilst defeating the purpose of trying to shop sustainably.
  • Taobao clothing sizes are usually smaller than normal sizes. Buy one size bigger than your normal size to play it safe.

Step 2: Choosing your item on Taobao


A great way to determine if an item is of good quality is to see the number of recent transactions, which are shown by the grey numbers next to the prices. The small white words highlighted in orange mean “free shipping”, but this is usually only applicable to delivery within China, though you might get lucky every now and then. The name of the store/ seller is shown after the three orange stripes in grey, and on its right is the origin of the store. We picked the second laptop stand shown (the one on its left is an ad for the same item), which was recently purchased by 13,072 people, is eligible for free shipping within China, is a TMall item, and is from a Shanghainese store called “Shanghai cool more digital” (we’re just going to cut Google translate some slack here).

Another icon to take note of is the small red square on the very bottom of the item, which indicates that the item is from a Tmall store. Items which don’t have this little red square are from Taobao sellers. If you’re confused, here’s the difference between Taobao and Tmall:

Taobao: Taobao is a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) online store and acts as a platform for individuals to sell goods to consumers. Anyone can set up an online store on Taobao as long as they meet certain requirements.

Tmall: Tmall is like Amazon. It runs on a B2C (business-to-consumer) model, which means that the seller has to be either a registered brand, an official manufacturer, or an organization selling their goods to customers. If you’re worried about counterfeits or low-quality goods like tube dresses that are more akin to onesies, Tmall is your safe bet as Taobao requires all Tmall sellers to prove that they are a legitimate company/store/manufacturer. There are also certificates of quality and compliance on each seller’s page.

Step 3: Product information, reviews and ratings

The first thing we usually do is check out the product information and the reviews. Scroll down to see more information and photos from the seller, then click on the second tab to read reviews (Google translate will come in handy again). Click on “Pictures” to see reviews with photos of the item to get an idea of what it actually looks like.

The boxed words with numbers in brackets next to them at the top of the Reviews and Ratings bar refer to the most frequent reviews of the product. For instance, 2067 buyers said that the product was of really good quality, and 705 buyers said that the delivery service was not bad. These give a good indication of the overall quality of the product as they naturally help filter out inconsistent reviews.

Sassy Tip: “The baby” referred to in the text above is a direct translation of the phrase (這個寶貝), which is a phrase used by buyers to refer to “this product”.

Each Tmall and Taobao seller are given ratings by their past customers, and both are given rankings out of 5 for:

Description: How closely the actual item resembles the product description.
Service: The quality of customer service provided by the seller.
Delivery: The speed and efficiency of delivery.

Rating: A rating of 4.8 or higher is considered a good rating, whereas any ratings of 4.7 or lower are already considered to be inferior. Taobao sellers are also given special ratings with icons. There are four levels to these icons: From (lowest) Hearts, Diamonds, Blue Crowns, to Gold Crowns (highest). Each level is then broken down into five grades. Eg. a seller with one Blue Crown is ranked higher than one with five Diamonds. Based on our experience, sellers with one diamond are pretty reliable, though it always helps to read through the reviews as well.

Sassy Tip: Click onto the name of the Taobao seller (the bolded black words above the special ratings) to go into the shop to see other items available.

Step 4: Buying your item on Taobao

To buy your item, choose the one you want amongst the photos (we picked the white laptop stand), then decide on the quantity. If you want to continue shopping, click on “add to cart”, or just choose “quick buy” if you’re in a rush.

Step 5: Placing your order

To checkout, select the item you want to buy now by ticking the box on the left the item, then select “checkout”.

Step 6: Filling in delivery details

Unfortunately, you can’t automatically translate this page using the extension, but our translations are here to help! There is no zip code for Hong Kong, so simply fill in six zeros.

Sassy Tip: Many couriers charge an extra HK$20-$30 for delivery to Hong Kong residential addresses (which is not included in the prices shown on the website), so deliver to your office or choose self-pick up at Hong Kong post offices, 7-11s, or collection points to save that extra bit of cash.

Step 7: Shipping options

Here we were presented with two options for shipping: Direct Shipping and Consolidated Shipping (aka Taobao Cargo). Direct Shipping can be expensive (usually more than what the website shows) and rarely worth the price, so we’d suggest you pick Consolidated Shipping, which is cheaper and works like this:

  1. Make the first payment: Product cost + domestic shipping fee from seller to forwarder warehouse (could be free)
    All your item(s) will be sent to the same warehouse, even if they’re from different sellers.
  2. Make the second payment (Step 8): International shipping fee (to your own destination)
    When all the items you’ve bought have arrived at the warehouse, you can deliver them to your own home/ office all in one go, which is when you will be asked to make the second payment.

After confirming your order, you will be prompted to select your payment method. Apart from using credit cards, we’ve also tried paying on Taobao by Octopus, which is quite the novel experience. You simply tap your Octopus card to the NFC sensor on an Android phone which has the Octopus app installed until you hear the “doot” you hear so often at MTR stations.

Step 8: Confirmation

After you’ve made your payment, you will get a confirmation that your purchase is successful. You might find it strange that the delivery address isn’t your own, but is some random address in China. Don’t freak out just yet – it’s just the address of the forwarder warehouse.

Step 9: Consolidation and Second payment

Unfortunately, you won’t be receiving any emails or text messages that your item has reached the warehouse so you’ll have to either check back in 1-3 days, or download the “Taobao Global App” in the App Store or Google Play, which will then send you notifications. To check whether your item has reached the warehouse, head to “My Account” (我的淘寶), then click on “Purchased Items” (已买到的宝贝)

Once you see the red rectangle (the one we’ve circled) on the right that says “Manage Item Transfer” (处理转运), click on it and you will be directed to a page where you are informed about the weight of your item and the free storage time you have left (you are usually charged 1 per day after the complimentary 20 days of storage time).

If you have multiple items in the warehouse, tick them on the left, then click the orange rectangle we’ve circled on the bottom right to consolidate your orders and pay. We’re only buying one laptop stand here though, so we don’t have more than one item to select.

You will have the option of delivering to your door, picking up at certain Hong Kong post offices, selected 7-11s or designated collection points (eg. S.F. express service centres) before making the second payment. You can then choose to pay this second payment by credit card, PPS, Octopus, Alipay etc.

After you make this payment, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait for your goods to be delivered to your selected destination!

Step 10: Taobao Refunds

We certainly hope this isn’t necessary because it can be a little of a chore, but in case you really aren’t satisfied with your item, you can request a refund from the seller within 25 days. However, we strongly advise against this as it can get messy to return items from Hong Kong so make sure you are purchasing a product you want to keep! Check out this guide for more details.

Now head to Taobao and start shopping!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2014 by Team Sassy and was updated in June 2018 by Rachel Au.

Read more: 50 Local Hong Kong Brands You Need To Know

Featured image taken by Sassy Media Group. All edits on screenshots are made by Sassy Media Group.

Back to top