Near the end of the video, I shared my Taobao shopping experience. There are a few tips and lessons to learn about there.
Shopping at Taobao — Challenge #1: It’s All in Chinese!
When you shop at Taobao, you first have to deal with reading and writing in Chinese.
I must say I suck at the language. My ‘O’ Levels grade for the Chinese language was merely an acceptable B4. Even so, I haven’t forgotten most of what I’d learned in those years of compulsory second-language lessons.
At the very least, I could still recognize many Chinese characters when I see them. However, through lack of writing them, I do encounter difficulty in recalling their strokes upfront.
But I do have a strong point up my sleeve, in the form of pinyin or the Romanization of Chinese. I can say I’m adept at writing in pinyin, so I could get away with writing Chinese text using the English alphabet. And doing all this with ease at the PC keyboard.
Armed with this, it wasn’t too messy for me to get in touch with Chinese suppliers. And with Taobao’s built-in chat function (called AliWangWang), buyers have a direct communication channel to each and every seller on their shopping platform.
That solves the basic problem of how to navigate and use the Taobao website and app, plus contacting suppliers to ask questions and sort out issues.
Shopping at Taobao — Challenge #2: Getting Them Out of China
The next big puzzle to confront me was about shipping stuff I bought back to Singapore.
Often, Taobao sellers provide free domestic shipping within China; at times, a small fee is charged for local delivery. With that, your purchases remain in China. Everything from there on is your responsibility.
Recognizing this missing link, and sensing the opportunity, Taobao now provides international shipping as a separate option during item purchase. If you are in a hurry, you can choose to ship purchases immediately to your Singapore address after paying for them.
Alternatively, if you have bought several items from different suppliers, you can use the option of consolidating all purchases to economize on shipping rates. Once your goods arrive at Taobao’s shipper, you can elect to combine different items into one or more larger parcels.
The shipper will repack your stuff into parcels as instructed before shipping them to Singapore. The only catch: there’s a time window within which your items must arrive to be in time for consolidation. Miss this and items already at the shipper will go out without waiting for the others.
There’s 3rd-Party Help Too
Third-party international shipping options are also available. These include using the overseas delivery services of Taobao agents, who would usually act as the buyer on your behalf. Or appointing your preferred shipper and arranging for Taobao sellers to deliver your goods to their prescribed locations in China.
For me, I opted to use Lazada’s global shipping services to get my items out of China and into Singapore. Their charges are reasonable amongst the 4 or 5 competitors who have operations in China and provide shipping to Singapore.
With Lazada’s help, I merely had to ensure the supplier deliver my purchases to Lazada’s China warehouse location. Once the goods got there, I received a notification to proceed with consolidating and shipping my order.
Within 5 days, the package arrived at my doorstep, delivered by Ninja Van.
Be Mindful of What You’ll Have to Pay For
Whichever way you go, bear in mind that there would be several separate charges to pay for when shopping at Taobao, viz:
- The items you’ve purchased
- Delivery fees within China, if there isn’t free shipping
- International shipping fees
- Credit card fees, usually at 3%, unless you have an AliPay account
- Agency fees, if you chose to use a Taobao agent to act for you
All things considered, Taobao shopping does look more complex for Singaporeans, compared to buying at AliExpress or Lazada. Still, I thought I’d give it a go, just to have a first-hand experience.
(And now being able to write about it and sharing what I know.)
For the record, the soldering iron station was available on AliExpress but cost more. And it wasn’t from the supplier which I wanted to buy from, which is a critical factor. I didn’t want to end up with a copycat product which may employ inferior electronic components.
And so, I jumped into the deep end — shopping at Taobao for the very first time 😉