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The Complete Guide to Shopping on Taobao in Singapore (2018)

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Clara Lim

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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.

 

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

First of all, one does not simply walk into Taobao.

Taobao is like Mustafa. It’s a 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.

Need inspiration? That’s okay – 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.

 

Taobao buying & shipping options: a quick overview

Due to restrictions in the past, it was pretty much impossible to ship your stuff from China to Singapore without external help. This need has resulted in a very saturated market of third-party 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 agent is EZBuy, with runners-up like SGShop, Peeka and Oops also getting in on the pie.

Taobao seems to have a vendetta against third-party agents. It famously clamped down on EZBuy a while back (though EZBuy is still surviving – Eugy just got her lights from them). There are many, many agents out there, and their service level vary quite a bit. Use them at your own risk and always be sure to read the reviews.

The good thing is, it’s now possible to buy from Taobao and ship directly to Singapore. Taobao has incorporated several forwarding services directly into its shipping options. Taobao also now offers direct shipping right to your doorstep, without requiring you to wait for a forwarder to consolidate Singapore orders.

There’s one major caveat though – you must have some rudimentary linguistic proficiency in Chinese. If that’s a problem for you, there’s a final option. You can shop Taobao on Lazada, which is owned by the same parent, Alibaba. But it doesn’t show you everything on Taobao, which means you might not get the cheapest deal.

To recap, there are 3 main ways to buy stuff on Taobao and here are their pros and cons in summary:

Method Pros Cons
Taobao direct Gives you the most control over product selection and price

Multiple shipping methods offered

Taobao guarantees fast delivery

Require Chinese proficiency & knowledge of Taobao platform

Bad for bulky/heavy orders (e.g. furniture) due to air freight limits

Taobao agent (EZbuy, SGShop, Peeka, Oops) Service provided in English

Does basic goods inspection and repacking

Good for bulky/heavy orders as they do sea shipment

Need to pay extra fees e.g. agent fees, service charge, sometimes local delivery

Longer lead time especially if you opt for economy sea shipping

Might get shut down by Taobao in the future

Lazada Taobao Collection All in English, familiar and easy to use

Shipping is currently free for min. order of $20

Shows only a limited selection of Taobao products

 

Cost comparison of Taobao shipping fees

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.

I’ve placed the “official” shipping methods right on top, and the third party ones below. (Lazada is last, because even though shipping is free, it doesn’t come close to replicating the wondrous marketplace that is Taobao.)

Type Shipper Shipping fee Estimated fee for 2kg parcel ($50 order)
Taobao direct Taobao Global Direct Shipping Auto-calculated at checkout. Rates start at 29 RMB for first kg Varies, but should cost slightly more than forwarder
Taobao forwarder Cai Niao First kg 29 RMB / subsequent 500g 10.5 RMB $9.96
Taobao forwarder 4PX (PopStation) First kg 31 RMB / subsequent 500g 10 RMB $10.16
Taobao forwarder 4PX (doorstep) First kg 33 RMB / subsequent 500g 11 RMB $10.95
Forwarder EZBuy (Sea) $1.20 up to 30kg + 8% agent fee $5.30
3rd party forwarder Peeka (Economy Sea) $1.40 per 500g + 3% agent fee $7.10
3rd party forwarder Oops (Sea) 26 RMB up to 2kg + agent fee $1 per kg $7.18
3rd party forwarder EZBuy (Economy Air) $1.69 per 500g + 8% agent fee $9.34
3rd party forwarder SGShop (Economy Sea) $1.25 per 500g + service fee + clearance fee $10.92
3rd party forwarder Sfinex (Air) First kg 30 RMB / subsequent kg 30 RMB (decreases as package gets heavier) $11.95
3rd party forwarder Oops (Air) First 500g 36 RMB / subsequent 500g 12 RMB + agent fee $1 per kg $11.96
3rd party forwarder SGShop (Economy Air) $1.99 per 500g service fee + clearance fee $14.12
3rd party forwarder Peeka (Eco Air) First 500g $10 / subsequent 500g $2.70 + 3% agent fee $19.60
Lazada Taobao collection Lazada Auto-calculated at checkout. Free delivery for min. order $20 Free

Based on these calculations, EZbuy’s shipping is the cheapest out of all the options, beating out even Taobao’s own forwarders! Note that air shipment is the standard speed (1 week-ish) while the much cheaper sea shipment can take way longer (up to 3 weeks).

Even if you don’t mind waiting, you must be comfortable with the risks of using third party agents as you never know if Taobao will try to squash them again!

If you really want to play safe, go for Taobao’s consolidated shipping via Cai Niao (yes, that’s its real name) which appears to be the cheapest. Or shop on Lazada’s Taobao Collection for free delivery, if you don’t mind not having access to every single item on Taobao.

Let’s go through the options in order:

  • “Official” Taobao shipping options
  • 3rd party Taobao agents
  • Lazada Taobao Collection

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“Official” Taobao shipping options – for regular items

If you want the widest range of products and can handle shopping in Chinese, the best way to do it is through Taobao itself. But how do you get your Taobao haul from the vendor in China to your doorstep in Singapore? There are 2 main types of Taobao shipping options:

  • Taobao Global Direct Shipping
  • Global Consolidate & Shipping

Taobao Global Direct Shipping is straightforward. The cost of shipping from the seller in China right to your doorstep is auto-calculated for you when you checkout, and you make a one-time payment, just like with any other e-commerce sites such as Amazon. Note that if you buy so-called sensitive items (e.g. batteries, power banks, cosmetics and food), you can’t use direct shipping.

Taobao Global Consolidate & Shipping is slightly more complicated. Because Taobao is a marketplace of sellers all over China, the first step in logistics is to get sellers to ship your items to a central warehouse. After, say, your iPhone case from Shenzhen and Hello Kitty beanie from Beijing have arrived in the same warehouse in Guangzhou, someone will have to pack them in one parcel and ship them to Singapore.

A handful of international parcel forwarders (kind of like FedEx or DHL) take care of these logistics, and they are integrated with Taobao itself. However, it’s a bit more hassle as you have to monitor your items and make payment twice – once for your purchase and another time for the shipment.

For a simple and clear explanation of the shipping options that Taobao offers, see their website.

 

Taobao delivery agents – shipping option for bulky items

Third-party Taobao agents often go beyond just consolidating and forwarding a shipment to you. Many are known to have been known to check the quality of the goods you’ve ordered, as well as liaise with the seller should there be any damaged item. That saves you the trouble of contacting the seller directly and trying to understand Mainland Chinese millennial lingo, a tall order even for people who are proficient in Chinese.

As a result, it is usually more costly to go with them. So if inspection services and language barriers are not issues for you, you can save on the extra fees by just using one of Taobao’s shipping options.

BUT, if you’re buying heavy or bulky items e.g. furniture, you can’t use Taobao’s direct shipping or forwarding services. These go by air freight and thus have size and weight limitations apply. Packages cannot exceed 1.2 metres for each dimension and the total weight cannot exceed 80 kg.

On the other hand, delivery agents are willing to handle crates that weigh more than 100kg. This is because they have shipping by sea options. Delivery will take weeks rather than days, but this is the only cost-effective way to ship huge items. Here’s a look at how much it costs:

Taobao agent Shipping fees (Economy Sea) Estimated fee for 100 kg shipment of 1 cubic metre
SGShop Up to 20 kg – $1.25 per 500g (capped at $39)

20 to 50 kg – $0.95 per 500g (capped at $69)

50 to 100 kg – $0.65 per 500g (capped at $115)

100 kg and up – $0.35 per 500g (capped at $115 per cubic metre)

Clearance fee $0.98 per parcel

Shipping $70.98 + agent fee 8%
EZbuy Up to 30 kg – $1.20 per 500g (capped at $48)

30 to 60 kg – $0.80 per 500g (capped at $60)

60 to 160 kg – $0.50 per 500g (capped at $96 via Guangzhou or $128 via Shanghai)

160 kg and up – $0.30 per 500g via Guangzhou ($96 per cubic metre) or $0.40 per 500g ($128 per cubic metre)

Agent fee 8% surcharge of product value + international shipping

Shipping $96 (via Guangzhou) or $100 (via Shanghai) + agent fee 8%
Cai Niao 492 RMB per cubic metre $98.13 + unknown added fees
Oops First 2 kg – 50 RMB / every subsequent kg – 6 RMB

OR 450 RMB per cubic metre

Agent fee $5 per 0.1 cubic metre

Shipping $127.18 (calculate by weight) or $89.70 (calculate by volume) + agent fee $50
Peeka First 30 kg – $1.40 per 500g

Next 50 kg – $1 per 500g

Next 80 kg – $0.70 per 500g

Beyond 160 kg – $0.50 per 500g

Shipping $212 + agent fee 3%

When you ship items by sea, you will sometimes have to calculate shipping based on volumetric weight (cubic metres or cbm) rather than just plain ol’ weight. But 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. A quick Google search will show you plenty of volumetric weight calculators online.

 

Lazada’s Taobao Collection – Taobao in English?

“Beg pardon, kind sir, but is there an English version of Taobao?”

Yup, you’ll be glad to know that you can Taobao in English, thanks to the Lazada Taobao Collection. The buying experience is really hassle-free and shipping is, at the moment, free with a minimum spend of $20.

But it doesn’t come close to offering the entire range of goods on Taobao, so you might lose out on the best deal. Another downside is that you can’t contact the sellers directly to make specific requests or enquiries. Basically, you lose out on control and flexibility.

Technically, you can also shop Taobao in English on EZbuy’s website as products from Taobao are listed on the site (mixed with products from other platforms and countries including the US, Korea and Taiwan). On the product page, just under the product name, there will be a tiny orange icon that says “By seller on Taobao”.

If you want to shop on Taobao directly but don’t know Chinese, your best bet is to use Google Chrome to browse Taobao. The browser will auto-translate Chinese to English (mixed with some gibberish), which might be good enough to get you through the basic functions.

The internet abounds with Taobao guides but you needn’t look any further than the official Taobao interactive guide (don’t worry, it’s in English). It goes through 5 main topics:

  • How to register as a Taobao member
  • How to make sense of Taobao reviews and rating systems
  • How to deal – chatting with sellers on Aliwangwang and setting up delivery
  • How to order and pay through Alipay
  • How to leave feedback after you receive your order

Once you get past the language barrier, shopping on Taobao is not rocket science. It might be a little weird the first time you use Aliwangwang and Alipay the first time, but that’s about it.

 

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. Broadly speaking, Taobao Global Direct Shipping is the fastest as the seller will ship it to you directly. For everything that involves a forwarder, 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

Shipping lead time estimates typically count the days from the time your shipment is in the warehouse to the time it reaches your doorstep (or wherever you’re collecting your items). So you should buffer a couple more days for the seller to ship the item to the warehouse in China.

Shipping option Type of freight How long it takes to ship from warehouse
Taobao Global Direct Shipping Air Within 5 days
Taobao forwarder (Cai Niao & 4PX) Air Within 5 days
3rd party agent (EZBuy, SGShop, Peeka, Oops) Air 7 to 10 days
Sea 2 to 3 weeks
Lazada Taobao Collection Unknown Varies from 1 to 4 weeks

Whether you opt for direct shipping or consolidated forwarding, as long as you shop directly on Taobao,  shipping should be pretty fast. Taobao has a 5-day delivery guarantee from the warehouse to Singapore. If lead time exceeds 5 days, you can get 50% of the international shipping fee refunded. If you don’t see your parcel after 15 days, the full amount (including your purchased item!) is refunded.

Although third-party delivery agents also use air freight, there’s usually a longer lead time involved. Some only do shipments from their China warehouse to Singapore once or twice a week, for example. And after your goods arrive in Singapore, it takes 1 or 2 more days to get it to your doorstep or collection point. Naturally, if you opt for the cheaper sea shipping option, it will take even longer, usually up to 3 weeks.

In theory, Lazada shipping SHOULD be fast as it’s part of the same company as Taobao. But as it seems to be sorting out logistics issues at the moment, the timeframe given remains very vague.

 

Other considerations when selecting a Taobao delivery service

Payment options: In general, you can use MasterCard and Visa credit cards when buying directly from Taobao and use an international parcel forwarder. Some delivery agents allow the use of credit cards, but there is an additional fee (usually about 3% of the transaction amount).

However, for delivery agents like Peeka, payment can only be made via Internet Banking. There may be delays in payment if you’re doing an interbank transfer.

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 most 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.

 

So, which Taobao delivery service should you use?

It all boils down to two things: how proficient you are in Chinese, and what kind of items you’re ordering.

If you’re proficient in Chinese, it is cheap and super fast to order directly from Taobao. (The 5-day guarantee is pretty hard to beat.) Use Cai Niao forwarder for the cheapest rates, or Taobao Global Direct Shipping if you want minimal hassle.

If reading Chinese gives you nightmares, use EZBuy or Lazada Taobao Collection. The former has a much wider range of products than Lazada. However, be prepared for a longer waiting time as neither can beat Taobao’s turnaround time.

If you’re ordering bulky or heavy items from Taobao, then stick to a delivery agent. It’s the only cost-effective way to ship heavy items to Singapore. Plus the agent will ensure that your items are securely packed and notify you of the status of your order – quite essential if it’s a big ticket item you’re getting.

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

 

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Clara Lim

I used to be MoneyDumb. I hung out at H&M every day and thought that a $50 lunch set was a good deal. These days, I spend my time researching the crap out of life and trying to maximise utility on micro-decisions. I'm not sure if that's an improvement.