When your teachers told you Chinese was the language of the future, they were right. Except that instead of reading the four great classical novels, we are mainly using the language to buy dirt cheap made-in-China products on Taobao.
Taobao is known as the Amazon of China thanks to the fact that you can buy practically anything there, from wedding dresses to electric scooters. Since half of the sellers on actual Amazon are Chinese merchants anyway, you can save quite a bit by using a website targeted at a Chinese audience.
Trouble is, everything on Taobao is in Chinese. But fear not, Taobao is now a lot more use-friendly for Singaporeans than it used to be. We’ll walk you through the process of buying your own cheap China goods on the platform.
- Taobao buying & shipping options – a quick overview
- How to shop on Taobao in 4 easy steps
- Which Taobao shipping method should you choose?
- Should you buy Taobao stuff on Ezbuy?
- What about buying furniture on Taobao?
- Should you buy Taobao stuff on Lazada?
- Will you get charged GST on Taobao purchases?
- Best credit cards for shopping on Taobao
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.
Option 1: Direct from Taobao
Buying directly from the Taobao website or app gives you access to the site’s full range of products. However, since you’re essentially doing what Chinese buyers do, you’ll have to navigate the entire website in Chinese and pay in RMB.
If you can read Chinese proficiently, this is the quickest option as the Taobao app is actually quite simple to use.
On the downside, there are some items there do not qualify for international shipping, including overly large or heavy items, food, cosmetics, and electronic devices. The only way to get your hands on these would be to use a third party agent or forwarder.
Option 2: Going through a Taobao agent or third-party forwarder
Third-party Taobao agents act as go-betweens, helping non-Chinese customers communicate with Taobao vendors, handle payment and arrange for shipping. They can help you speak directly to the seller if necessary, and for big-ticket purchases, some can even help you check the product before sending it to Singapore. They can also help you consolidate your items in China before shipping them all to Singapore.
Then there are third-party freight forwarders, who arrange for shipping but don’t handle other aspects of the transaction.
There are plenty of Taobao agents in Singapore, with Ezbuy, Oops, SGShop and Peeka! being some of the more well-known. However, be aware that they can inflate the cost of your purchase quite a bit through agents’ fees, higher shipping costs and currency conversion to SGD.
Option 3: Taobao via Lazada
Don’t want to have to deal with reading Chinese or rely on an agent? Lazada has a “Taobao Collection” stocked with items from Taobao sellers. You can buy them on the Lazada website or app, which is thankfully in English and directed at Singaporean buyers.
The catch is that you obviously do not get the full range of Taobao’s products—not even close. What Lazada offers is a curated selection of mostly fashion items and homeware.
How to shop on Taobao in 4 easy steps
So, you’e decided to brave the walls of Chinese text and attempt to purchase something directly from Taobao. Here’s how.
Step 1: Create an account
Click on “免费注册” (translation: free registration, just copy, paste, Ctrl F, and search) on the top right corner of the screen, somewhere to the left of the shopping cart logo.
A new window containing a registration form will pop up. On the top right corner of the page, you’ll see “English”. Click that to (thankfully) proceed with the English version. You’ll need to enter a working mobile number to which a verification code will be sent.
Step 2: Browse products
This is easily the most time-consuming part of the shopping process—browsing the millions of products on Taobao. Unfortunately, the tiny ray of hope you got from signing up for an account on English gets extinguished here as everything must be done in Chinese.
You can navigate using the categories on the left or just type the names of products in the search bar at the top of the screen. Use their filters to whittle down the selection according to brand (bearing in mind that there are more fakes than authentic items), size, material and so on.
Have fun browsing and we’ll see you on the other side of the rabbit hole in Step 3.
Step 3: Access the product page
When you find a product listing you’re interested in, click on the name and you’ll be taken to the product page, which looks quite similar to what you’d find on Qoo10 or eBay. You’ll see the price displayed in RMB, followed by options such as size and quantity.
The “宝贝详情” (translation: product details) tab displays information about the product, which you’ll probably want to paste in Google Translate unless you’re a Chinese whiz. Right next to the product details tab, you’ll find a tab labelled “累计评论” (translation: user reviews). Click it to see reviews from past buyers—I really recommend you do this scrupulously as there are lots of scammers on Taobao. Also, be aware that lots of sellers have fake reviews, so avoid sellers who sound TOO perfect.
Bowled over by the item’s cheap price and want to buy it? Click on the buttons labelled “立即购买” (translation: buy now) to buy immediately, or “加入购物车” (translation: add to cart) to add it to your cart and continue shopping.
Step 4: Complete your purchase
On the product page, if you clicked “立即购买” (translation: buy now), you’ll be taken directly to checkout.
If you clicked on “加入购物车” (translation: add to cart) instead, the item will be added to your shopping cart. You’ll then have to click on “购物车” (trans: shopping cart) at the top right of the screen to access your shopping cart and check out.
The shopping cart is quite intuitive. You’ll see a summary of your items and the total amount of RMB you need to pay. Click on the 结算 (translation: settle bill) button to make payment.
Fill in your shipping and contact details, select a shipping method and confirm by clicking on “提交订单” (trans: submit order).
You will then be directed to an Alipay website to complete payment. If you don’t have an Alipay account yet, you’ll need to create one. Once logged in, you’ll see a form for your credit card details. Enter them, click “Continue” and then your card will charged. Look out for the SMS alert if enabled for your card.
Which Taobao shipping options should you choose?
At the checkout phase (Step 4 above), you’ll be asked to select a shipping option. If your Chinese abilities stop at 风和日丽, (trans: sunny day, cliché Chinese composition phrase from the ’90s and ’00s) the only thing you understood would have been the prices and the number of days.
Here’s a quick and dirty translation of the shipping options:
|Taobao shipping option||Translation|
|官方直邮 – 海运||Direct delivery by sea|
|官方直邮 – 空运||Direct delivery by air|
|官方集运 – 经济海运||Consolidated shopping by sea|
|官方集运 － 标准空运||Consolidated shopping by air|
|联系卖家发货||Contact the seller to arrange for shipping on your own|
|Taobao – Chinese Words||Translation|
|加入购物车||add to cart|
Fastest and most convenient shipping method from Taobao
The easiest and fastest option is 官方直邮 – 空运 (direct delivery by air). It’s best if you are only buying one or just a handful of items, and want each seller to ship directly to your doorstep.
For direct shipping, shipping costs will be calculated for you upon checkout.
Cheapest shipping method from Taobao
If you’re buying several items, it will be cheaper to combine shipping (官方集运) so that your various parcels can be consolidated before being sent to you all at once by a Taobao forwarder. Shipping by air is faster than sea, but if you’re buying bulky items like furniture, you might want to opt for the latter in order to cut costs.
For consolidated shipping, you need to pay in two stages. At the first stage, you pay when you purchase so that each seller can send the item to the warehouse in China. Once all your items have arrived at the warehouse, you pay to ship the consolidated package to Singapore.
Shipping through a Taobao agent
Choose the final option (联系卖家发货) if you are using a Taobao agent. The agent will handle negotiations with the seller on your behalf.
Should you buy Taobao stuff on Ezbuy?
You have two options when you shop with Ezbuy — you either use them as a freight service (called ezShip), meaning they give you an address in China that you get get your stuff shipped to (works like vPost), or you shop on the Ezbuy app or website, which lists items from Taobao sellers, but at a higher price.
Pros of buying Taobao stuff using Ezbuy
The main advantage of Ezbuy is that their interface is in English, which makes it ideal if your main reason for using an agent is to avoid having PTSD symptoms of past 听写 tests.
Cons of buying Taobao stuff using Ezbuy
Ezbuy charges an agent’s fee and you might also pay a bit more for shipping. Shipping lead times tend to be a bit more unpredictable when using an agent.
You should also know that Taobao has a habit of making life difficult for third party agents and in 2017 was involved in a spat with Ezbuy resulting in unfulfilled orders. Ezbuy still works most of the time but just take note that there is a risk.
If you’re shopping on Ezbuy’s website, they obviously don’t have every single product being sold on Taobao, but their selection is quite wide.
However, some users have complained that you also pay higher prices on your products and higher shipping fees than when buying direct from Taobao, with the total mark-up (including agents’ fees and shipping) raising prices by 30% to 50% (still cheap though).
Verdict: should you use Ezbuy?
Shopping on Ezbuy is more worth it if you are an Ezbuy Prime member, which gets you unlimited flat rate shipping of $2.99 regardless of weight, size and quantity.
The main reason the majority of Singaporean Taobao users shop on the site is for the low prices. So, if you don’t like paying a cent more than you have to, you might prefer to buy on Taobao directly or purchase an Ezbuy Prime membership.
By the way, if you’re buying on Taobao directly, you can use Ezbuy’s freight forwarding service ezShip to reduce your shipping costs. When you sign up for ezShip, you’ll be given an address in China that you can get sellers to ship to. Consolidate your packages at the ezShip address and then send them to Singapore. You can store packages for free for up to 20 days (below 20kg) or 7 days (above 20kg) before shipping them to Singapore.
What about buying furniture on Taobao?
Every so often, some influencer parades around their newly-decorated HDB flat and proclaims that everything was purchased on Taobao, from the sofas to the giant wall decals.
There are more furniture and homeware shops on Taobao than you’ll ever find in Singapore, which makes it so much easier to find items to match your gothic boudoir or jungle-themed interior.
Shipping furniture from China to Singapore can still be cheaper than getting it at Courts if you use consolidated delivery by sea.
Tips for buying furniture on Taobao
If you are looking to ship a great amount of furniture/home stuff in a short span of time, it’s very cost-effective to use Ezbuy Prime. With its unlimited flat rate of $2.99, you can’t get any cheaper than that.
The main downside is that not everything is available on Ezbuy’s platform.
So, alternatively, you can use Taobao’s Cainiao sea shipping service, subject to size and weight limits, or a freight forwarder like ezShip. However, you should be aware that you will only know the exact shipping costs when all your items are at the warehouse or freight forwarder’s address and are ready to be sent to you.
Is it worth it to buy furniture on Taobao?
Is it worth it? Depends on the size and weight. If you’re buying cushions or bedsheets, shipping shouldn’t be too expensive, but if you’re getting a table or bookshelf, good luck.
With Cainiao, your shipping charges are likely to be about 230 RMB (48 SGD) to 460 RMB (95 SGD) per cubic metre (the volume of the shipping crate), not including GST.
Otherwise, you’ll have to turn to third party freight forwarders like ezShip, Oops and EKLINK.
Remember that everything you buy on Taobao will attract GST charges, which will lower cost-effectiveness compared to pre-2023 days.
Should you buy Taobao stuff on Lazada?
Want to buy cheap Taobao products without having to go through the frightening process of navigating the Taobao site for the first time?
Lazada is like Taobao lite—you get to shop for Taobao products in the comforting setting of the Lazada site.
Pros of buying Taobao stuff on Lazada
Lazada has one big advantage — a pro-shopper return policy, which makes dealing with Taobao lemons easy.
Cons of buying Taobao stuff on Lazada
Lazada’s product range is much smaller, and you might also end up paying higher prices due to the lack of competition. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff is still cheap, but it’s not the absolute cheapest.
If you’re a seasoned bargain hunter looking for dirt cheap deals on Taobao, then you might prefer to brush up on your Chinese and plunge directly into the Taobao site.
Will you get charged GST on Taobao purchases?
As of 1 Jan 2023 the government has started charging GST on all items purchased online, regardless of cost or shipping method. Previously only items shipped by sea or worth at least 400 SGD would attract GST.
GST will be calculated and collected by Taobao when calculating your shipping fees, meaning it will be automatically added to your total bill upon checkout.
Best credit cards for shopping on Taobao
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.
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.
Which means that on top of buying dirt cheap products from China, you can save even more money by using a credit card that offers a decent cash back rate for your online spending.
Here are our top picks for small Taobao purchases. These are good for up to about $400 a month of online spending:
If you’re buying way more, you may want to opt for an unlimited cashback credit card like these:
- Cash Back on Eligible Spend
- Min. Spend per month
- Cash Back Cap per month
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