Taobao may be one of our favourite places to shop on, but navigating the site is both tricky and troublesome. Here are some essential hacks to save you some time and trouble. (Edit: Read our updated list of Taobao Hacks here.)
1. Use Google Chrome as a browser.
Two words: Google Translate. Browsers like Safari and Firefox don’t automatically translate the page into English (or your desired language), so it’s easier to use Chrome when browsing Taobao.
2. Rank search results by price.
Taobao usually has a few different sellers who sell the same item, but at different prices. By listing the search results by price, you can easily see which seller has the best price for the item you want to buy.
3. Read customer reviews to see their height and weight, and which size they bought.
The great thing about Taobao reviews is that they let customers include their height and weight, as well as the size they bought. This will give you a better idea of how the item might fit on you.
4. Filter item reviews to show only those with customer photos.
Although listings usually state item/size measurements, it’s kind of hard to gauge how the item looks on a regular person (with non-model proportions). Most popular items have item reviews with customer photos, so you can see how it fits on a real person. For easy viewing, click on the ‘图片’ button (see below) to filter the reviews and show only those that have photos.
5. Check seller ratings.
This is VERY important, trust me. The last thing you want is a dodgy seller who sends you an item that looks completely different from the listing (it happens). Also, some sellers forget to update their inventory on the listing, and they’ll only inform you that the item is out of stock after you’ve paid. You can always apply for a refund, but the money is credited to your Alipay account so it’s kind of troublesome to get the money back into your own bank account.
You can check the seller’s rating at the top right box of the listing. It’s usually a heart, diamond or crown icon. Every time a transaction goes through, the buyer can give the seller a Good (+1 point), Neutral (no points) or Bad rating (-1 point) so you can roughly determine how experienced a seller is from their rating. For an explanation of the different rating icons, see here.
6. Save your favourite shops or items.
If you see something you like, you can easily save it so you won’t lose the listing. You can also save your favourite shops, so you don’t have to remember their names. To save an item in your wish list, click on the ‘收藏宝贝’ button under the item picture. You can also see how many people have favourited the item (人气). To save your favourite shop, click on the ‘收藏店铺’ button in the box to the left of the listing. To see other items from a shop, click on ‘进入店铺’.
To view your favourite items or shops, go to the top navigation bar and click on ‘收藏夹’. Click on ‘收藏的宝贝’ in the drop-down menu to view your saved items, or ‘收藏的店铺’ to view your saved shops.
7. Download the Aliwangwang Plug-in.
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t chat with sellers (because sometimes you want to ask them if an item is still in stock or not). After some desperate Googling, I realised that you have to download the Aliwangwang (阿里旺旺) Chat plug-in. It works like iChat or MSN Messenger, where you can chat with sellers through the application. Sellers will also send you a message if there is anything wrong with your order (i.e. no size, delayed delivery). The username and password is your Taobao account name and password.
8. Alipay requires you to have 2 different passwords.
Alipay is the bane of my existence when it comes to Taobao. Seriously. For the uninitiated, Alipay is basically like the PayPal of China – and you have to use it to pay for your Taobao order.
Confusing interface aside, Alipay is not the most reliable when it comes to international credit cards (read: it might lock you out of your account for no reason). The one thing you should know though, is that there are two passwords for Alipay – your account password (to sign into your Alipay account) and your payment password (when you need to approve a payment). I didn’t know this and tried using my account password for my payment password one too many times, and Alipay locked me out of my account.
9. Use eNETS for purchases above $33, and your credit card for purchases below that amount.
eNETS has a transaction fee of $1 (flat rate) per order, while credit cards have a transaction fee of 3% of your purchase. In general, eNETs is better for bigger purchases (and with Taobao, you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to buy A LOT more than $33. Hehe.).
You might need your iBanking toggle to complete the transaction though, because eNETS won’t let you use SMS verification to approve the transaction.
10. Apply for a refund if your item doesn’t arrive.
If the seller notifies you that your item is out of stock after you’ve already placed the order, you can apply for a refund by going to your Order History page. Click on ‘我的淘宝’ at the top navigation bar, then ‘已买到的宝贝’.
You have about 10 days to apply for a refund – Taobao basically holds the money and only releases it to the seller after you’ve confirmed receipt of your item, or after the 10 days is up. You can also apply for a refund if the seller forgot to include an item in your order. In my experience, refunds usually take about 3 – 5 days to process, and is a fairly easy process.
If the seller sends you the wrong item, you can still apply for a refund but you have to send the item back to the seller first – most of the time, the return shipping fee will cost more than the item itself, so it doesn’t make sense to return the item. Plus, most sellers won’t reimburse you for international return shipping fees if you return the item. The solution to all of this? Just sell the item on Carousell. Or keep it as a backup present for someone you don’t really like.
11. Tick the ‘Forwarder’ box before payment.
Always remember to tick the ‘Forwarder’ option (under your Singapore address), so that Taobao will know you are using a forwarder for your order. If you don’t, the seller might ship the item directly to you – which means you’ll have to pay a bomb in shipping fees. And you don’t want that do you?
12. Ask sellers for the weight of an item.
Since forwarders charge you by weight (usually for every 500g), you want to make sure you maximize your weight limit. So for instance, if your package is 550g, you’ll still get charged the same as a package that is 1kg – because the rate is for every 500g. For bulky items (i.e. home stuff, shoes), ask the seller for the weight of the item and calculate a rough estimate of your total package weight. In my experience, 4 – 5 clothes (dresses/tops/skirts – but not heavier clothes like coats or knits) is about 1kg.