Are you someone who loves to shop online? If so, you’ve probably heard of Taobao – the largest online marketplace in China that offers a wide range of products at competitive prices. But if you’re not fluent in Chinese, you might feel intimidated by the language barrier and the complex user interface.

But don’t let that stop you from experiencing the joy of shopping on Taobao. We’ve got you covered with this guide that will take you through a step-by-step process of shopping on Taobao even if you don’t read Chinese. From setting up your account to checking out and receiving your items, we’ll help you shop on Taobao with ease.

Why shop on Taobao?

Taobao offers various products at bargain prices
Taobao is the largest online marketplace in China, and non-Chinese speakers can shop on it too (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

Taobao offers a diverse range of products at competitive prices. From clothing and accessories to electronics and household items, you can find almost anything on the platform. And the best part? Since they sell directly from the producers, you’re cutting out the middleman and getting the best prices possible. Not to mention, Taobao is known for its unique and exclusive items that you won’t find anywhere else. For example, they have a range of specialized home appliances for small flats that you won’t find at traditional retailers.

Shopping on Taobao can be a thrilling experience, especially if you’re willing to explore new products and brands. And for non-Chinese speakers, many have heard of the English version of the site, Aliexpress, however since they’re catered to international customers, their products are not as diverse and the prices are not as competitive as its Chinese counterpart. This is why we’re here to help you navigate Taobao to get better deals.

Plus, Taobao officially ships to 15 countries outside of mainland China, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Australia, and the US. Even if you’re not in one of these countries, you can still use Taobao shopping agents like Superbuy, ParcelUp, and Wegobuy, to purchase and ship your items right to your doorstep.

How to create an account on Taobao?

Register using a mobile number
Simply enter your phone number to register an account, then get the verification code to confirm your identity (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

To get started, download the Taobao app on your phone, or go to their website on your desktop computer and click on the “Register” button. You’ll need to provide a valid phone number, which will serve as your login and verification method for as long as you use Taobao.

So, choose a phone number that you’ll have access to for the foreseeable future. Once you’ve entered your phone number, follow the prompts to complete your account setup, and you’re all set to start shopping for your favourite items.

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Searching for products

Start shopping by type in the product you're looking for in the search bar, or browse by categories
The search bar can recognize simple English keywords, or make use of the photo search to help (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

Looking for a specific product on Taobao can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not familiar with the Chinese language. But don’t worry – there are a few tricks to help you find what you’re looking for. To make your search easier, use specific keywords to narrow down the search results. While the search bar can recognize simple English keywords, it’s always better to use a translating app to get the product name in Chinese.

Try using more specific words, for example, “one-shoulder swimsuit in white” instead of “swimsuit” to get better results, and make use of the filters and sorting features to refine your search results. You can also try the picture search function, where you can take a photo or screenshot of the product you’re looking for, and the algorithm will show you similar items.

The number of sales is a good indicator to find a credible seller
The number of sales, listed next to the price and directly translated as”xxx people have paid”, is a good way to find a trusty seller (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

But finding the right product is only half the battle, once you click search, there are hundreds of thousands of products show up, offering similar items – therefore you also need to make sure you’re dealing with a reputable seller. Look for sellers with a high number of orders and positive reviews from previous buyers. You can also check the photos from previous buyers to see if the product matches the description. And if you’re looking for a hassle-free return process, search for items that can be returned via official shipping partners in your country. These items are marked as “locally returnable (本地退)” in the product page, and this program is now available in 7 countries.

One thing to note is that some products cannot ship outside of mainland China. These restrictions typically apply to items like food, electronics, and liquid or powder products. In this case, you’ll be reminded with a warning message, and you will not be able to place an order as well.

Product descriptions and seller communication

Check out the product page for color and size variations
If the shop is part of the Return Locally program, it will show up on their product page (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

Understanding product descriptions can be a challenge for non-Chinese speakers, but there are ways to navigate through the details. Many sellers provide detailed descriptions with pictures, which can give you a good idea of what you’re buying. And with translation tools like Google Translate, you can easily translate the text to your preferred language. Look out for common words like “Big” – “大”, “Small” – “小”, “Adults” – “成人”, and “Kids” – “兒童” to help you understand the details.

Take a look at the pictures on description section and reviews to ensure the product quality
On left: scroll down the product page for the detailed description; on right: don’t forget to check the reviews to get an idea how the product looks like in real life (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

One thing to keep in mind is that most products offer different variations, such as colour, pattern, and size, within the same listing. For example, if you’re looking for a beach towel, you may find 10-30 different designs in the same listing. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, be sure to check the seller’s store for similar products.

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When you’re shopping for clothes, Taobao has a neat function that recommends sizes based on your height and weight. Simply click on the product options, go to “size” on the right-hand side, and enter your measurements. The recommended size is usually quite accurate and can help you avoid buying the wrong size.

If you need to communicate with the seller, try using ChatGPT or other translation apps to help you. Many sellers understand simple English, and the customer service is rated constantly, so you can expect fast and helpful responses.

Placing orders and payment

Select your favourite items in your shopping cart and place a group order
Select the items in your shopping cart then select your shipping and payment method on the next page. Taobao will combine these orders into one package so you can have them shipped at once (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

Once you’ve found the product you want, simply select the design, size, and quantity, and add it to your cart. When you’re ready to check out, choose your shipping and payment method. The next paragraph explains more about shipping options. After you’ve selected your preferred shipping method, the shipping cost will be calculated and included in your order.

Taobao offers several payment methods, including Alipay and international credit cards, ensuring a secure and hassle-free payment experience. It’s important to use a secure payment method and ensure that your transaction is protected. If you run into any issues or have questions, you can contact the seller or Taobao customer service for assistance.

Shipping and delivery

Input address for delivery or select a self-pick-up spot
For direct delivery, enter your address and then select a shipping method; for self pick-up, select a pick-up point or locker (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

Taobao offers international shipping options for customers outside of China, making it easy to shop from the comfort of your own home. Shipping costs and delivery times will vary depending on the size and weight of your order, as well as your location. For customers in Hong Kong and the 15 countries that supported official shipping, there are multiple shipping options available, such as direct shipping or using a third-party logistics provider. Tracking your shipment and managing the delivery process is easy through the Taobao website, so you can stay informed about the status of your order.

Different payment methods are supported on Taobao
Taobao supports credit card payment for international customers (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

If you opt for a third-party logistics provider, the seller will first ship the product to their warehouse in China. From there, you’ll need to track the process and manually choose the products to combine into one package for the second shipment to you. Once you receive your parcel, you’ll need to confirm the delivery manually on the app, so you can take advantage of the aftersales services and leave a review of the products.

It’s worth noting that self-pickup from a pickup point or self-pick-up locker is usually the cheapest option, while having the products delivered right to your door may incur additional costs.

For overseas shipments, it’s best to check with your individual Taobao shopping agent for shipping fees and payment methods. 

Returns and customer support

Tracking orders under My Account on Taobao
Once the order is placed, you can track the delivery status in your account (© Screenshot of Taobao website)

At Taobao, if you’re not happy with your purchase, they offer a “Return locally” program in seven countries. To apply for a return, simply click on “Return & Refund” in your order, provide reasons for the return, and attach pictures as proof. Follow the instructions and return the item to the assigned shipping company. It’s recommended to communicate with the seller first to confirm the arrangement before proceeding. Please note that this service has a time limit of 15 days from confirming delivery.

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In cases where the seller ships the wrong product, they’re usually happy to exchange it for the correct product right away, saving you time and hassle. For items that aren’t part of the “Return locally” program, you’ll need to contact the seller directly to arrange a return or exchange. If they agree, you’ll have to ship the item back via a third-party logistics company. Be sure to confirm who will bear the shipping costs and taxes before proceeding.

If you encounter any issues or disputes with a seller, Taobao’s customer service team is always available to help you find a resolution. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them for assistance.

Additional tips and recommendations

To get the most out of your Taobao shopping experience, it’s important to know how to find the best deals. Take advantage of the various promotions and sales that run throughout the year to save money. Many shops offer discounts if you order more than one product. And for the biggest sale of the year, mark your calendar on November 11 for the 11.11 mega sales, Taobao’s version of Black Friday, which generates billions of sales every year. A pro-tip is to add all the items you’re interested in to your shopping cart and place the order once the sales hit.

For those living outside the officially supported countries, it’s recommended to use trusted Taobao shopping agents like Superbuy, ParcelUp, and Wegobuy. These services can help with communication, payment, and shipping, and provide additional support and guidance. It’s also important to be aware of potential risks and take precautions when shopping on Taobao, such as counterfeit products and fraudulent sellers.

Shopping on Taobao is a fun and exciting experience that’s accessible to non-Chinese speakers. With the help of translation tools, effective search techniques, and communication with English-speaking sellers, you can easily browse and purchase a wide range of unique and affordable products. By following the tips and recommendations outlined in this article, you can shop on Taobao with confidence and success. Start exploring all that this platform has to offer and find the best deals on the products you need!

Header image credits: Dean Drobot via Canva

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Growing up between Hong Kong and various other countries, Renee is a hospitality graduate, an adventure enthusiast, with a newfound passion for writing. When she’s not discovering hidden gems and new eats on Instagram, you'll most likely find her sweating at the gym, sipping on fine wine with friends, solving mysteries in crime movies, or jet-setting to new countries.

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