Fretting over the lousy air quality and shoddy baby formula that might be spiked with melamine in China? The locals use Taobao, which is the largest online marketplace in China that sells literally anything from air purifiers to imported baby formula at insanely cheap prices, and it can be a lifesaver when you need those random bits and bobs around the house. Shopping on Taobao can save you a lot of time, energy and money. Also, being able to use Taobao will grant you unhindered access to some of the weirdest products out there.
The challenge for foreigners is that the website is mostly in Chinese, so you'll need to arm yourself with some language tools to become a Taobao pro. A Google Chrome browser with its translation extension is a good place to start. If you do not know much Chinese, some translation tools and apps may also come in handy. Also, you may need a debit card from a Chinese bank, as only a few items can be bought via cash on delivery.
So what should you do, if you want to buy something on Taobao? Here is our step-by-step guide.
1. Sign up and log on
First pay a visit to the official Taobao site and go through the registration procedure by filling out all the information.
Click on the “consent agreement” red button.
Input your phone number and you will receive a verification code on your phone. Type in the verification code and fill out your username information (you can pick whatever name you like) and set a password.
Follow the instructions and voila, registration is complete! Next time, you can navigate straight to the log-in page and type in your phone number/user name and password to begin your shopping journey!
Be warned: Occasionally when you log in, this page will pop up and ask you to fill out more personal info, like ID card number or passport number for security. When this happens you will need to ask a friend who reads Chinese for help.
2. Let's do some shopping!
The first thing you need to do is type in the item you want to buy in the search box. We will use the purchase of an air purifier as our example to walk you through the steps. Though typing in English works, we found that typing in Chinese can generate more search results, so we suggest you use a translation app to translate the items you want to buy to Chinese.
If you are wary of buying fakes on Taobao, you can press the 'Tmall button' (circled above in red) before you begin your search; this function narrows down products which are sold directly from brand manufacturers.
Generally the same product has various sellers on Taobao, as the screenshot above shows. So if you are not buying from Tmall, you should check the credibility ratings of Taobao sellers, depicted by the hearts, diamonds and crowns below the store's name. You can also click the logo beside the store's name to contact the seller.
On Taobao, buyers will be asked to give sellers a rating for the service they provided after each purchase. As we can see from the chart above, the more gold crowns a seller has, the more points a seller has received, thus when item-hunting you should look for sellers with more gold crowns.
Click the item you are interested in, and switch to the item page to check out more specific information. Check the payment terms in the bottom right corner, and make sure they include quick payment (pay via your debit card and a phone verification code without opening an online bank account) in case you do not have enough money in your Alipay account.
Scroll down, and you can check more information about the item. Be skeptical when reading buyer feedback. Some sellers in China offer large discounts to buyers who give them five-star ratings.
If you think the product is ideal, then click the 'add it to the shopping cart' or 'buy now' buttons. And then you go to the order page.
Fill in the address and receiver's name, telephone number or mobile number. You can tick the box before 'set as default shipping address' if you use the address very often. It is best to type it in Chinese, as most deliverymen in China cannot read English.
Click the red 'submit order' button in the bottom and the order is all set.
3. The Payment Process
After submitting the order, the next and last step is to pay. Taobao has a variety of payment options including Alipay, quick payment, credit cards, cash on delivery, etc, though they are not available for all the products. So please check the payment options first. These options also sometimes be difficult for foreigners to use. The most convenient way for a foreigner to purchase something is by using ‘quick payment.’ All you need is a debit card and a phone number.
Choose quick payment, circled above.
Input your debit card number (should be a local bank card), cellphone number (make sure you use the same cellphone number when you apply for the debit card) and click 'get free' to receive a payment verification code on your phone. Then input the verification code.
Voila, the payment is complete after a few clicks! Actually, the money is temporarily transferred from your debit card to your Alipay account (the Alipay account is generated automatically when you are registering for the Taobao account, and you can use your Taobao username and password to log onto it). You can confirm the money transfer after receiving your item. If you do not confirm it, the transfer will be done automatically ten days after the seller dispatches the goods, if you choose express delivery or EMS for shipping.
Click on the ‘my Taobao’ button circled above and you can check the status of your order.
Click the ‘buy baby’ (which should be 'purchase items,' forgive the lousy Google Translate) in the left column and check all your previous orders.
Looks pretty easy, right? Once you successfully buy a thing or two for your family on Taobao, you might get addicted and become a Taobao-aholic like the rest of China.
For more How-to Guides, click here.