Shopping

Taobao Singapore – The Complete Shopping & Shipping Guide (2019)

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When you hear “Made in China”, one word comes to mind: Taobao. What better place to get your hands on cheap, mass-produced items from mainland China, lead and other toxins hopefully not included?

Known as the Amazon or eBay of China for the variety of items you have access to, Taobao can help you save money on buying wedding dresses to electric scooters and everything else in between. Trouble is, it can be confusing AF.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to what you need to know about shopping on Taobao, and more importantly, your delivery options.

 

Contents

  1. Taobao buying & shipping options – a quick overview
  2. How much are Taobao shipping fees for small parcels?
  3. What are the Taobao shipping options for bulky items?
  4. How long does Taobao delivery to Singapore take?
  5. Other things to consider when selecting a Taobao delivery service
  6. Conclusion: So, which is the best method to ship stuff from Taobao to Singapore?
  7. But what if you really really want to Taobao in English?
  8. How do you find the best Taobao shops & products?

 

Taobao buying & shipping options: a quick overview

So you’ve got your eye on some cheap-ass China-made goods, but how do you actually make the purchase and get it delivered?

Here the road diverges into 3 paths. You can buy from Taobao direct, go through a third party like Ezbuy, or look for it on Lazada’s Taobao collection. In summary, here’s how they differ from one another.

Buying method Direct from Taobao Taobao agent / third party Via Lazada
Platform Taobao website / app Various – EZBuy, SGShop, etc. Lazada website / app
Language Chinese English English
Product variety Full product range Doesn’t display everything but you can buy anything with a URL Limited selection
Currency RMB SGD SGD
Shipping options Air / sea Air / sea Doesn’t let you choose
Logistics provider Cainiao 菜鸟 (no more 4PX) In-house Lazada
Cost Pay for shipping only Pay for shipping + agent fee Free shipping with min. $20 spent
Delivery speed Around 7 days by air / 15 to 25 days by sea Uneven (sometimes fast, sometimes delayed) 8 to 14 days


Buying and Shipping fromTAOBAOLazadaEnglish / SGD /Free Shipping*Third Party AgentsEnglish / SGD /Shipping + Agent feeTaobao (direct)Chinese / RMB /Shipping fee only* With minimum $20 spent

Buying from Taobao direct: For the best product range and prices, nothing beats going through Taobao direct – provided you have some rudimentary Chinese proficiency (or are willing to try your luck with Google Translate).

The good news is that Taobao is continuously improving the buying and shipping experience for worldwide customers. Their app looks and feels just like Lazada’s, they can ship directly to your doorstep, and now, there’s even sea shipping for bulky items which didn’t use to be an option.

Going through Taobao agent or third party forwarder: In the past, it was pretty much impossible to ship your stuff from China to Singapore without external help. That’s why there are tons of third-party Taobao agents, who help international customers communicate with the vendors on Taobao, handle the payment and most importantly, shipping the goods.

In Singapore, the most popular Taobao delivery third party forwarder is Ezbuy, with runners-up like SGShop, Peeka and Oops also getting in on the pie. There are many, many agents out there, and their service level vary quite a bit.

But the real problem is that Taobao has a vendetta against third-party agents. It famously clamped down on Ezbuy in late 2017, resulting in unfulfilled orders and many unhappy customers. Ezbuy works now (albeit patchily, in my experience), but there’s always a risk.

Lazada Taobao Collection: Lazada and Taobao are owned by the same parent company, Alibaba. If you cannot read a word of Chinese then this might be the best option for you. But it doesn’t show you everything on Taobao, which means you might not get the cheapest deal.

If you can find the product you want on Lazada Taobao Collection, they do offer free shipping with minimum purchase of $20, which isn’t hard to hit at all. You can also get rebates if you’re a LiveUp member too.

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Cost comparison: Taobao air/sea shipping fees for small parcels

Seems like there are a billion shipping options out there. So how much does each one cost?

Before we start off, this is just a quick disclaimer: with the vast number of items available on Taobao, and the fact that you can get items from practically all over China, it’s impossible to say with accuracy how much your items will cost you until they reach the warehouse in China just before being shipped over.

What we can do is just estimate cost based on available information. For consistency, we’ll estimate the shipping cost (including agent fee) for a 2kg parcel containing $50 of goods:

Taobao shipping option Shipping rates Agent fee Estimated cost
MRC (Sea) $5.20 up to 2kg, then $2.20/kg $5.20 + GST = $8.70
Oops (Sea) 26 RMB up to 2kg $5.25 + GST = $8.75
Taobao (Cainiao Air) 29 RMB up to 1kg, then 10.5 RMB/500g $10.10
Taobao (Cainiao Sea) 26 RMB up to 1kg, then 9.4 RMB/kg $7.15 + GST = $10.65
Ezbuy (Air) $1.69/500g 8%* $11.30
Sfinex (Air) 30 RMB/kg up to 2kg, then 24 RMB/kg $12.11
Ezbuy (Sea) $1.20/500g 8%* $9.18 + GST = $12.68
SGShop (Air) $1.99/500g 8% + $0.98 per package $13.58
SGShop (Sea) $1.25/500g 8% + $0.98 per package $10.38 + GST = $13.88
Peeka (Sea) $1.40/500g 3% (min. $5) $10.60 + GST = $14.10
MRC (Air) $8 up to 1kg, then $6.50/kg $14.50
Oops (Air) 36 RMB up to 500g, then 12 RMB/500g $16.54
Peeka (Air) $10 up to 500g, then $2.70/500g 3% (min. $5) $18.10

*Note: 4% to 8% agent fee (depends on your membership) applies to Ezbuy’s Buy-for-Me service only. There’s no fee if you use their Ship-for-Me service but you will have to place the order on Taobao by yourself.

Important note on GST: I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be common knowledge that you need to pay 7% GST on goods shipped via sea, regardless of the value of your shipment. In our case, it would add $3.50 to your final cost. Shipments by air, on the other hand, incur GST only if the value exceeds $400.

Based on these calculations, here are my top 3 choices:

Taobao (Cainiao Air): It makes the most sense to go through this for small parcels. It’s one of the cheapest rates, period. And it’s for air shipping, which means you get your loot in about 7 days as opposed to waiting for weeks. You can also opt for delivery to POPStation with Cainiao.

Oops (Sea) or MRC (Sea): If you don’t mind the longer wait with sea shipping, you can try Oops or this person/company on HardwareZone called MRC, which appear to offer the cheapest rates, even after factoring in GST. You need to browse Taobao and make payment by yourself, as these are just forwarding/shipping services.

Ezbuy: If you really do not want to look through walls of Chinese words to shop, Ezbuy remains the only viable choice since it has an English language shopping platform. Their air shipping cost is relatively affordable, even if you do get slapped with a 8% agent fee for their Buy-for-Me service.

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Cost comparison: Taobao sea shipping options for bulky items

Thanks to the ever-rising extravagance (and cost) of weddings and renovations, many newlyweds in Singapore are broke as hell when the time comes to actually furnish the house. For some of us, ordering furniture, bathroom fixtures and even lights from Taobao is an actual necessity.

So, how do you ship bulky items like beds or toilet bowls from Taobao to Singapore?

Used to be that Taobao didn’t do bulky shipments, which meant you had to go through Taobao agents like Ezbuy or SGShop, who would arrange for your furniture to arrive via sea shipment. Delivery will take weeks rather than days, but this was the only cost-effective way to ship huge items.

But now…. Surprise, surprise! Taobao’s Cainiao now offers sea shipping for bulky items.

Let’s compare the sea shipping options and see who comes out cheaper for a 100kg shipment (1 cubic metre in volume) containing $500 of stuff:

Taobao sea shipping option Shipping rates Agent fee Estimated cost
MRC $93/cbm up to 1 cbm, then pro-rated $93
Taobao (Cainiao) 492 RMB/cbm up to 1cbm, then 4.9 RMB/0.1cbm $99.31**
Sfinex 580 RMB/cbm up to 5 cbm, then 550 RMB/cbm $117.10
Ezbuy $96/cbm 8%* $147.68
Ezbuy $1.20/500g up to 30kg (capped at $48), $0.80/500g for next 30kg (capped at $60), $0.50/500g for next 100kg (capped at $96 or $128), 8%* $148
Taobao (Cainiao) 24.5 RMB up to 1kg, then 7.9 RMB/kg for parcels over 30kg $162.81**
SGShop (Sea) $1.25/500g up to 20kg (capped at $39), $0.95/500g for next 30kg (capped at $69), $0.65/500g for next 50kg (capped at $115), then $0.35/500g 8% + $0.98 per package $165.18
Peeka $1.40/500g up to 30kg, $1/500g for next 50kg, $0.80/500g for next 80kg, $0.50/500g beyond 160kg $6 $218
Oops 350 RMB for first 0.5cbm, 400 RMB for next 0.25cbm, 450 RMB for next 0.25cbm, then 45 RMB/0.1cbm $242.22

*Note: 4% to 8% agent fee (depends on your membership) applies to Ezbuy’s Buy-for-Me service only. There’s no fee if you use their Ship-for-Me service but you will have to place the order on Taobao by yourself.

**Excluding GST.

When you ship items by sea, you sometimes have the option to ship by volumetric weight (cubic metres or cbm) rather than just plain ol’ weight. It’s easy to derive this number from the dimensions of the parcel. A parcel that’s 1m tall x 1m wide x 1m deep is, quite simply, 1 cubic metre in volume.

Shipping by volumetric weight is usually a lot cheaper for really heavy, bulky items. For bulky items, it’s practically impossible to beat Taobao’s in-house shipping by Cainiao. The rate is extremely competitive, and only HardwareZone’s MRC has a lower rate, but not by much more.

I guess this means Taobao agents or “third party forwarders” all GG liao.

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How long does Taobao delivery to Singapore take?

It’s not possible to determine exactly how quickly a package reaches you when buying from Taobao.

General rule of thumb: The further removed from official Taobao channels, the higher chance of a delay. If you have a hard deadline – like if you need your shipments in in time for a renovation – then it’s best to stick to the “official” channel, i.e. Cainiao.

Here’s a look at how long you can expect to wait for your hoots to arrive.

Taobao shipping option Shipment mode Delivery time
Taobao direct (Cainiao) Air Around 7 days
Taobao direct (Cainiao) Sea 15 to 25 days
3rd party Taobao agent/forwarder Air 7 to 10 days, can be longer
3rd party Taobao agent/forwarder Sea 2 to 3 weeks, maybe more
Lazada Taobao Collection Unknown 8 to 14 days

This is for relatively direct shipments, like if you’re just ordering one pair of shoes, or ordering a few items from the same seller.

But if you’re ordering items from multiple sellers and need to wait for the individual sellers to consolidate their orders, there are several compounding factors:

  • The time it takes for the seller to ship your item to the warehouse
  • The waiting time to consolidate your order
  • Any extra processing time the forwarder might take
  • Whether your international shipment is by air or sea freight

For Taobao agents, the shipping lead time estimates typically count the days from the time your shipment is in the warehouse (not from the time you place the order) to the time it reaches your doorstep. So you should also buffer a couple more days for the seller to ship the item to the warehouse in China.

Another complicating factor is that Taobao agents don’t always ship stuff from their China warehouse to Singapore every day. They might only do it twice a week. Even after your goods arrive in Singapore, it takes 1 or 2 more days to get it to your doorstep or collection point.

Oh, and that’s not even considering the possibility of logistical delays for reasons unknown. My last order, via Ezbuy (Air), took almost 3 weeks to arrive – I could’ve shipped them with Cainiao by sea and they might even have arrived earlier.

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Other considerations when selecting a Taobao delivery service


FurtherConsiderationsRMBvsSGDPlatforms charging in SGD tend to inflateprices way over the actual exchange rate.PaymentOptionsMost merchants accept credit cards, butsome third parties prefer bank transfers.For credit cards, watch out for foreign currency transaction feesStorageOut of town? You can delay shipment butyou may be charged a daily fee forstorage in the forwarder’s warehouse

Currency conversion: One reason why I hate shopping on Taobao agents with their own e-commerce platform is the fact that they charge in SGD, and it’s terribly inflated from the actual RMB/SGD exchange rate.

So even though you seem to save on delivery costs and hassle, I suspect you end up paying a lot more for the product. And guess who pockets the change?

Payment options: You might be intimidated by stories about Singaporeans struggling to figure out Alipay and all, but I assure you, that’s entirely a thing of the past. You can use Mastercard and Visa credit cards when buying directly from Taobao. The shopping experience is almost the same as that of Lazada, just in Chinese.

With more established players like Ezbuy (which to be fair, is more of a full-fledged e-commerce platform), you can make payment with credit cards too.

But for the rest, it’s a mixed bag. Some delivery agents allow the use of credit cards, but there is an additional fee (usually about 3% of the transaction amount). Certain others only accept payment via bank transfers, which may incur delays. This also means you lose out on any credit card rebates you might get otherwise.

Storage: Maybe you want to consolidate your items before shipping them over. Or maybe you’re unable to take possession of your order immediately. Whatever the reason, you’ll be glad to know that many Taobao forwarding services provide free storage of at least 14 days. However, do note that after this “grace period”, they will start charging you $1 to $5 per day, depending on the size of your item.

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So, which Taobao delivery service should you use?

If you’re okay with ordering stuff in Chinese, it is cheap and super fast to order directly from Taobao and ship it via Cainiao. You can opt for doorstep delivery or collection from a SingPost POPStation. And since it’s Taobao’s own provider, there’s a lower chance of messing up.

For those who have no problem with the Taobao platform and really want to save money, MRC comes up tops in all our comparisons, beating (narrowly) even Taobao’s own rates. But that’s only if you’re comfortable with doing it old-school “Mass Order” style – PMing MRC on HardwareZone with your order and making bank transfers.

Regardless of whether you’re shipping small parcels or bulky furniture, the results are the same.

That said, you won’t get any of the services you normally get with Taobao agents. If you have a question for the seller, you have to chat with them yourself. Imagine that!

 

But what if you really really want to Taobao in English?

If you’re positively allergic to Chinese, then no choice lah, you have to use either Ezbuy or Lazada. Either way, shipping is going to take longer, you can’t contact sellers directly about your order, and more importantly – you’ll be paying more than you would if you go direct to Taobao.

Ezbuy has a much wider range of products, but it has its flaws. First, it’s not really a Taobao-only site – Taobao stuff is mixed with products from other platforms and countries including the US, Korea and Taiwan. If it’s a Taobao product, the product page will have a tiny orange icon that says “By seller on Taobao” just under the product name.

Note that Ezbuy is an independent e-commerce platform from Taobao, so there tends to be, shall we say, some variation in both product price and shipping cost when shopping on Ezbuy.

Read also: Using Ezbuy to Shop on Taobao – How Much More Are You Paying?

Lazada… well, which Singaporean doesn’t know how to use Lazada? Although shipping is usually free, the part that makes Lazada costly is the fact that it only lists a fraction of the goods on Taobao, and it’s virtually impossible to compare it against the original Taobao product. You will almost certainly lose out on the best deal.

But Lazada has one big advantage – a pro-shopper return policy, which makes dealing with Taobao lemons easy.

A third option is to shop on Taobao using Google Chrome. The browser will auto-translate Chinese to English (mixed with some gibberish), which might be good enough to get you through the basic functions.

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Taobao hacks: How to find the best Taobao shops & products

On a parting note, I’d like to add that Taobao is like Mustafa. It’s a REALLY bad idea to go in without an idea of what you want, or you’ll just end up trapped in there for 30 hours, whimpering in a collapsed pile of buffalo curd.

So, before you even start, you need to have an idea of what you’re looking for. Better still, get real-life pics and reviews of the products you want before you buy, because those computer-generated images on Taobao tell you absolutely nothing.

Plenty of resources are available on the internet. Some of our favourites are…

Dayre: For womenswear and home decor, search blogging site Dayre for loads of picture-intensive Taobao hauls. Particularly useful if you want to check out real life photos of clothing and get some fashion inspiration.

Reddit: For menswear and streetwear, Reddit has loads of resources. For example, this list of Taobao streetwear shops and comprehensive product reviews. Don’t bother with r/Taobao though – it sucks.

HardwareZone: For logistics reviews and buying experience, follow HardwareZone’s biggest Taobao thread to see what the lao jiaos have to say.

Pro tip! You can also use Taobao image search to find specific items. It’s particularly useful if you don’t know what the Chinese term for certain products are.

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Have you ordered anything from Taobao? Share your experience with Taobao delivery services with us.

 

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