It’s quite common nowadays to hear people, and even your newfound pengyou, saying their recent purchases are bought on either Taobao or JD – or other popular online marketplace apps in China. Even if those apps are fully in Chinese, you can actually get over the language barrier by remembering several steps or using clever strategies just like what other well-versed expats do.
Online shopping in China is truly distinct, and most of the times a learning experience. But a word of caution: it can be addicting and a real cash drain once you learn the how-tos.
So first, let’s have a quick rundown of the top three online marketplaces you should know.
|What can you buy here?|
|Everything, well sort of. You can buy items ranging from clothes and accessories to household appliances and electronics. Its sister site TMall, you can buy food items and “higher end” products from licensed sellers.||It can be classified as an English version of Taobao and TMall, so you can buy on Baopals almost all of the items sold at those two sites. Not all of the same search functions exist to find specific goods which makes it time-consuming to navigate at times.||It’s known for selling quality electronic products and household appliances. You can also buy clothes but the choices are much more limited than that of Taobao’s. This can also be conveniently used with WeChat wallet, unlike Taobao or TMall.|
|How about the prices of the items?|
|You can find really cheap stuff on Taobao!||Items are priced a little bit higher compared to their Taobao counterparts because of a commission fee.||Item prices are mid-range though you can still get discounts or promos.|
|Are the items of good quality?|
|It depends. Some cheap items have defects, but in general, you can get good buys even if your Chinese is very limited. Alibaba, the parent company of Taobao and TMall, also began its crackdown on fakes early this year after being recently labeled as a “notorious market” for counterfeiting by the Office of the US Trade Representative.||This is the same as Taobao because they are essentially the same platform. It helps to be cautious. If it seems too good to be true, then it likely isn’t worth purchasing.||Many Chinese say items sold on JD.com are durable, with some having warranties included in the price.|
|Tell me more about the customer service.|
|Okay, this gets tricky because expats who don’t speak Chinese will find it hard to communicate with Taobao and TMall vendors, rendering transactions very difficult.||There’s English speaking customer service so communication won’t be that much of a hassle.||With JD.com there is also limited customer service for non-Chinese speakers. If there is a problem with your purchase get help from a friend.|
Shop Like a Local
Excluding Baopals, shopping on Taobao and JD involves a learning curve and some tricks. Forget the difficulty of Chinese interfaces and characters; instead, embrace them like a local to get that unique shopping experience.
– When buying or searching for an item, better use keywords and translate them first into Chinese using Baidu Translate. Usually, English-named items cost much more.
– Items bought in Beijing can be delivered within two days; those from other Chinese cities take three to five days. Sellers show where the item will come from.
– Use picture search. Look for the picture icons on Taobao (left) and JD.com (right). But remember, this function doesn’t work all the time.
– There are review features but they’re entirely in Chinese. Alternatively, you can refer to the ratings or photo comments to see how your item of choice looks like. Just look for this word: 有图 (youtu or with photo) or 晒图 (shaitu or blueprint).
But Here’s the Catch…
Success! Your item will be delivered but you think you’ll be in the office by the time the courier arrives at your home.
– Remember that just add your office address as your second shipping address so that your item will be directly sent there. Remember to select that before paying an item.
“The delivery of my item is taking too long!”
– It could be because of the shipping location or other issues like public holidays, the famous November 11 sales day, and severe pollution (yes, because it affects air freights). You can also track the courier, but remember everything is in Chinese so you need to translate it using an app or asking help from a Chinese pengyou.
Okay, you bought a cheap quality item and it’s ready for shipping … but you changed your mind and want to replace it with a different colored one, if not, get a refund.
– That’s tough because you need to talk to a seller’s customer service representatives (CSRs) or fill up a form. Only a few of these CSRs can speak a limited amount of English. What you can do is to use your translator app… or when they call you, just tell them the following phrases:
• Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese. Can you send me a message instead so that I can translate it?
对不起，我不会说中文。 你可以给我一个消息，以便我可以翻译吗？Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. Nǐ kěyǐ gěi wǒ yīgè xiāoxi, yǐbiàn wǒ kěyǐ fānyì ma?
• Hold on, here’s a friend to talk with you.
等一下。 这是一个朋友跟你说话。Děng yīxià. Zhè shì yīgè péngyǒu gēn nǐ shuōhuà.
“Wow, the delivery was fast…” only to find out the item has defects or different from what you ordered. Worse, you found the item was fake!
– Again, this is a tricky part because you need to contact the vendor. Try sending them a message telling:
• The item I bought was [fake / has defects]. Can I replace it [or have a refund]?
我买的物品是[假/有缺陷]。 可否更换[或退款]？Wǒ mǎi de wùpǐn shì [jiǎ/yǒu quēxiàn]. Kěfǒu gēnghuàn [huò tuì kuǎn]?
This article appeared on p48-49 of the beijingkids July 2018 Home & Relocation Guide issue.