If you’ve asked someone in Beijing, “Where did you get that cool thingamajig?” then you’re probably familiar with the household answer: “Taobao.” Taobao (tāobǎo wǎng 淘宝网) has more than 800 million product listings. It is the go-to website for clothes, electronic products, and other material needs for Chinese locals and the growing international community alike. Taobao offers free listings for sellers, a feature that spurred the shopping site’s initial growth. Taobao’s other features include an instant messaging tool to facilitate buyer-seller communication and the escrow-based payment tool, Alipay.
Taobao consists of a broader, eBay-like marketplace and Tian Mao, or Tmall (www.tmall.com). It’s free to list on Taobao’s marketplace, but Tmall requires a basic fee to become a seller. This means that Tmall carries a higher guarantee that the product is legitimate. In general, if you are worried about scams on Taobao, be sure to check the star ratings (1-5) for each seller, which can be found on the top of the page, usually underneath the main product picture. These ratings and comments provide insight into the quality of a seller and their products.
Sign on the Dotted Line
You can sign up for an account (miǎnfèi zhùcè 免费注册) via the Taobao mobile phone app. However, the server for that service is often busy, so we recommend registering via computer. Here’s how:
1) On the site, look for the free registration link (miǎnfèi zhùcè 免费注册) on the upper left hand corner of the Taobao homepage. When signing up, type in your desired username (yònghù míng 用户名) and desired password (dēnglù mìmǎ 登录密码), and retype your password (quèrèn mìmǎ 确认密码). Write out the confirmation code and click to accept the terms and conditions (tóngyì xiéyì bìng zhùcè 同意协议并注册).
2) On the next page, confirm your account info. Select country and area (guójiā dìqū 国家/地区). Often the selection is already made for you as “Chinese mainland” (zhōngguó dàlù 中国大陆) from the dropbox. Then, fill in your mobile number after the +86 country code. Check the box below to agree to Alipay’s terms and conditions (zhīfùbǎo xiéyì 支付宝协议). Click the orange link to read the document in its entirety; if you’re worried about your Chinese skills, have a Chinese-speaking friend look it over.
3) A text window shows up as you click “Next page” (xià yī yè 下一页) and navigate onwards, fill in the six-digit number code you have just received via text message. Be quick in typing the code, as it expires in one minute. If you don’t input the code in time, you will have to redo the confirmation step again.
4) Once your account has been successfully registered, you will move on to the next page and a green check mark bubble will appear. Click on the Taobao Wang icon (tāobǎo wǎng 淘宝网) to return to the homepage. Now, you can start shopping!
The Big Search
Below is a mini-guide to the basics of searching for products. If you type English into the search bar just to the right of the Taobao icon, you will most likely find the kind of product you are looking for – Chinese keywords will only broaden that search. Tmall (tiānmāo 天猫) is the second icon to the right of the Taobao icon. More legitimate than the marketplace, it also sells many middle- to low-end Chinese brand products.
Once you type in the search item name, click “Search” (sōusuǒ 搜索). An array of products will show up. Click on specific items; use your own judgment and review the comments.
Products from Taobao might not meet your expectations or match the photo presented, so it’s vital to troll through ratings and comments. If your Chinese reading isn’t up to par, give Google Translate a spin – the translation might be basic, but it can be quite helpful. The best solution is finding a Chinese-speaking friend to assist in checking product reviews.
Symbols to Note:
7 days to return (first day is counted from the date that the product is received by the buyer)
Purchased goods sent within 24 hours
Part of Taobao sellers’ circle
Pay in cash when the product arrives
Choose size amount and style and click the orange button on the left to buy immediately or the blue button to add the item to your shopping cart.
Shipping You Can Handle
Fill in your information in the areas boxed in green (shown left). Your street address can be filled in using Chinese characters as well as pinyin.
In shipping options, courier (kuàidì 快递) is usually the preferred method. EMS is trackable and (in theory) more reliable, but it’s usually a bit slower than kuaidi. Delivery companies typically call before they arrive at your home or office.
The pay page will show up, use the first tab Alipay (zhīfù bǎo 支付宝), fill in your pay password and click the orange button to continue. When shopping on Taobao, it is important to note that a seller’s legitimacy is not guaranteed by Taobao; buyers purchase at their own risk. Only Alipay (zhīfùbǎo 支付宝) has guidelines to ensure that a buyer is not scammed. For instance, money is not transferred to the seller if the buyer is unhappy with the quality of the product.
Search for shops located in Beijing (北京); it will say just right of the price when you first click on the product. Shipping costs (yùnfèi 运费) will be around RMB 0-10 if the product is shipped from within China.
It’s Easy with Alipay
First, get to website navigation (wǎngzhàn dǎoháng 网站导航), located on the top right hand corner of Taobao’s home page. A dropbox will show up. Under the third box of tools (gōngjù 工具), select Alipay (zhīfùbǎo 支付宝). You will be directed to a page where you can click (zhùcè 注册) to register.
1 Input the same email you used to register your Taobao account.
2 Fill in the following information: the same email you used for Taobao, an Alipay sign-in password, an Alipay payment password, and a security code question.
3 Provide more details: personal or company account, your full name in capital letters, your passport number, mobile phone, and a second contact number.
4 Once you’ve submitted this information, the next page should look like the image pictured on the right.
5 In your email, activate your Alipay account by clicking the link (in the image circled to the left). Double-check your spam folder if you can’t find it.
6 You will be re-directed to a Taobao page confirming that your Alipay account is activated.
More Online Shopping
Taobao will have almost all the products you dream of buying, from the real deal to cheap copies (foreign and Chinese brands included). Baby, toddler, and kids products are abundant, as well as fashionable or sporting goods that you or your teen might be interested in.
www.360buy.com (Chinese only)
360Buy is a well-known site with a good reputation and over 25 million registered users. They have every wardrobe staple a kid could want, as well as Disney clothes and accessories. Orders under RMB 39 have a RMB 5 delivery charge; delivery is free for orders over RMB 39.
www.vancl.com (Chinese only)
This clothing website offers an extensive clothing line and ships to 87 countries. Casual clothing ranges from RMB 30 to 300 for shirts, shorts, pants, shoes, underwear, shoes and accessories. The delivery fee is RMB 5 and orders in Beijing are shipped within 24 hours. They accept returns, and you can pay with a card upon delivery. There is an English site, but those orders cannot be shipped to China.
This Nanjing-based site is akin to the fashionable British-based shopping website ASOS. ROMWE’s site is in English, and ships for free worldwide with no minimum purchase required. Clothing styles available are suitable for teens and young women. Romwe has also been recognized by fashionable people worldwide for its on-trend products.
Lijia Baby 丽家宝贝
www.lijiababy.com.cn/eshop (Chinese only)
For expecting parents, Lijia Baby stocks goods for children between the ages 0 and 5. Physical branches are located throughout Beijing, including Wangjing and Yaojiayuan, but the website is much easier to use. Products are delivered a day after purchase.