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  • Writer's pictureAnnie

How to buy things on Taobao

The mega e-commerce website Taobao is allowing international customers access to Chinese-made brushes.

China is starting to emerge as a new hotspot for handmade artisan brushes. If you shop on sites like Taobao you might have come across brands such as 琴制 Qín Zhì, 受受狼 Shou Shou Lang or 艾诺琪 Energy which sell hand-bundled brushes. Taobao is an e-commerce giant that is the Chinese equivalent of Amazon or eBay.

This is a general overview for how to navigate Taobao. Using Taobao requires a bit of Chinese-reading capacity. I wrote a guide for navigating hair types on my blog so if you're keen on ordering some brushes then you're going to need to start there if you can't read Chinese. For the rest, Google Translate does a decent job so you can use that to go through the basics of 'Add to cart', 'Checkout', 'Shipping address' and so on. Taobao accepts credit card payments and will ship internationally. 'Visa' and 'Mastercard' transcends all languages.

If you can't read Chinese, download the Google Translate app onto your phone. You'll need to use the camera function on your phone and browse Taobao on a computer or tablet. Chinese brush listings typically use photo images with imbedded captions so you can't just click the 'translate' option on the webpage. The Google app has a function where you can point your camera at a word and it'll give you a translation. I find it 70% accurate overall but fortunately, it translates the more important aspects of online buying correctly.

How to navigate around the site

You're going to need to sign up for an account even just to browse. Select your country, a username, password and then grab your mobile phone. You will need your mobile phone number or cell phone number to sign up and verify your account. Find your country's dialling code and then enter your phone number. You will receive a text message saying "(Taobao) Your verification code for registration is" and a 6 digit number. Verify it on the log in page and you're good to go.

Your international browsing homepage should look something like this. I live in Australia so next to 'Taobao' it says 'Australia' on the orange banner. You can change the country you're in by clicking on the first tab on the top left hand side. I've replaced the Chinese word with 'Country' in red in the screenshot below. You can start browsing by clicking the categories on the left or use the search bar if you know what you're looking for. International users don't get access to everything on the regular Chinese website but we still get to see a fair bit.

Say you know which brands you wish to browse. We'll use the example of my most recent purchase. I wanted to buy some more grey squirrel brushes from 琴制 Qin Zhi so I just typed the brand name into the search bar. Unfortunately, 琴制 Qín Zhì literally means 'piano' so my search results gave me an assortment of pianos, keyboards, children's instruments and a few makeup brushes. I found a brush listing then I clicked on the seller's name. I landed on the official store and I started browsing from there.

I like to browse by 'All' but you can go by various categories depending on how you like to shop online. I've added in translations in the picture above but just use the camera option on your Google Translate phone app. Using the wishlist option will be pretty helpful unless you wish to privately bookmark the links. It's the gold star which appears underneath each listing.

I have translated a few things and added red captions in the example above. The most important thing is to change the shipping. You should change the postage option from 'within China' to 'overseas'. I will show you how in the example below.

Change your shipping to 'overseas'. You will immediately see the postage price change. Don't worry about the exhorbitant cost yet. You'll get other postage options offered by Taobao itself and not from the seller. You don't absolutely need to change the shipping option when you add to cart if you're browsing on the Taobao International website. I don't always do so but this step just eliminates a few little glitches you may run into. You want your items to go to the Taobao warehouse. Some items wouldn't end up in my cart unless I changed the international shipping option. Add your desired items to your cart. You've done enough online shopping to know instinctively that the giant orange buttons mean 'add to cart' and 'checkout'.

If you're using an online translator then the word for 'goods' 宝贝 (bǎobèi) will most definitely translate to 'baby' in English. Unforuntately it's just one of those linguistic puns that will mean you'll continually see 'babe' or 'baby' pop up. Every now and then you might see something that says 宝货 (bǎohuò) for 'goods' or 'shipped goods' particularly if you shop on T-Mall where more Taiwanese people shop.

Price, payment and postage

Chinese-made brushes are much cheaper than their Japanese counterparts. A goat hair ten-piece brush set made of sokoho hair or in Chinese, 细光锋 (xì guāng fēng) will set you back around RMB¥330 (AUD$68 or USD$47) whereas a large 52mm long grey squirrel head powder brush costs RMB¥420 (AUD$86 or USD$60). You're never going to see Japanese brushes at this price unless you visit the factory to buy their outlet products and then claim back the tax at duty-free. Even then, you'll still pay more for Japanese fude than you will for Chinese hand-bundled natural hair brushes.

This is the checkout page. Select which items in your cart you wish to check out and then check for coupons. That's the little blue blob with the red ticket beside it. In this case the store was offering RMB¥5 off for every ¥150 spent or RMB¥10 off for every ¥499 spent. Activate the coupons. Click the obvious orange checkout button.

The next page below is where you add your postal address and select your method of postage. It will save your address for future purchases or you can modify your postal address if this changes. Just use Google Translate but I have inserted the translated shipping options below.

If you're happy with the total cost, check out at the bottom with the orange 'buy it' button. It will take you to the Alipay payment gateway. There is a 3% surcharge on a credit card payment via Taobao which uses Alipay (the Chinese equivalent of PayPal).

When registering to use Alipay for the first time, you will be required to select a 6 digit password as your Alipay password for future purchases. The 3% credit card surcharge appears when you get to your payment gateway and will show the total amount for the brushes and the surcharge but will not appear on your 'confirmation, your payment went through' page. Below is what the Alipay payment section looks like. The payment will only accept Mastercard or Visa so check your bank's spread to see what your exchange rate from RMB is.

Your payment will be processed then you will see a typical 'We've received your payment' screen. This page will not acknowledge the full price you paid including the credit card processing fee, nor will it show the postage. The most important thing is that you haven't paid for the overseas postage yet. Basically what this process gets you to is that the seller (or sellers if you're purchasing from many stores at one time) will ship your goods to a Taobao warehouse where it will be collated and you have 20 days to pay for the postage.

You will need to pay international shipping as a separate transaction after the seller ships to the Taobao warehouse. I've made a few purchases from Taobao directly and the shipping to Australia from China cost between RMB¥60 to ¥80 each time depending on my method of postage and its total weight after being consolidated at the warehouse. I typically buy 3 to 7 brushes at a time. The postage price will be higher if you make multiple purchases from various sellers and need to consolidate it. I had one option that cost RMB¥140 for eight large brushes from two sellers but I found that it was fractionally cheaper in that case to make two separate transactions and pay for direct RMB¥60 shipping twice. In hindsight I'm not sure that extra hassle of another set of transactions plus the 3% surcharges made my saving of RMB¥20 (AUD$4) worth it. My advice is to seriously consider what you want to buy, add it to your wishlist and if you can, buy it all in one cart. I am not sure how much it costs to post to other nations and you won't know until you hit the checkout.

Fortunately, Taobao periodically runs sitewide sales where they offer coupons and each individual seller might offer discounts as well. I try to buy during times when I can take advantage of these coupons and so my postage costs have been offset by the coupons. My most recent purchase was during their June sales where they offered a sitewide coupon of ¥20 for every ¥200 spent. On top of that, most retailers had slashed their regular retail prices as well by 10-15% so I ended up getting a hefty discount while my coupons covered the cost of shipping. Taobao's biggest sales event of the year happens on Singles Day (November 11th) which is the Chinese equivalent of anti-Valentines' Day.

As I showed in a previous screenshot, when you initially checkout your items, they'll present you with the international shipping options. There are a few different companies you can choose from so you'll get to choose which one you want and which method of shipping you want. It's like choosing between DHL and FedEx (both of which were not options by the way but there is sometimes an exhorbitantly expensive express shipping choice if you really want to have your items in a day or two).

There are a few varying price points for both sea freight and air freight international shipping. Each time I've ordered from different stores, I've been given different options. Use Google Translate on this page. Personally, I've chosen two different companies for my orders thus far. To Australia, SF Express air freight was able to get my package to Australia and to my doorstep in around a week and a half. On the other hand, Yunda Express took the sea freight route and that took 6 weeks to arrive. It was also slow to depart the Taobao warehouse. You're going to need to decide whether this time is worth the monetary saving. I'm impatient by nature but I'm also a cheapskate when it comes to shipping however I've determined that the long wait time isn't worth the monetary difference. I will be choosing air freight from now on because the price difference between sea and air mail on a large package was only around AUD$10 (approximately the cost of a danish and latte from a cafe). The reason why it was heavy was because the company padded the bag with free gifts with purchase including a bag, microfibre towels and soaps.

Things move quickly in China and in most Asian cities. People want things and they want it now. I suppose Americans might know what that's like with Amazon Prime but here in Australia, we're just happy things move out from the seller within a week then it'll take another week to arrive. I saw movement with all of my packages on Taobao within 12 hours of payment so they dispatched my order to the consolidation warehouse very quickly.

You can check where your order is up to by going to the 'My purchases' tab on the top bar of the page. Taobao tracks the progress of your order and every time it moves, someone scans your package so you get an update. Go to the bit underlined in yellow in the picture above and click the first option in the dropdown menu.

Going to your orders, you will find the status of your packages. In the 'payment pending' section you can pay for your postage once it has reached the warehouse. When you click on your order which you've paid for, you will see that it will stop in the 'Arrived at Warehouse' section of the diagram below and the last action will tell you to pay for your freight. Use Google Translate.

Go to your 'My purchases' tab and pay by following the orange 'pay now' button. The Alipay payment is the same as the one shown earlier. Again, your generic 'We've received your payment' page won't show your credit card processing fee. In this case, I paid a postage fee of RMB¥66 (AUD$14) with SF Express for air freight for my three brushes from one seller. Remember that there's the pesky surcharge so it was actually RMB¥67.98 for postage.

You'll be able to see the status of your package as it moves from 'Pending payment' to 'To be shipped' to 'To be delivered' and so on. This is also the page where you can come back to see exactly where your package is should you wish to check its progress after it leaves China and lands in your country. From this point forward just wait for your package to arrive at your doorstep. Upon completing your purchase intially, Taobao will give you an estimated time frame of between 20 to 60 days to receive your parcel. There is a countdown timer on order page so this is the period which you get Taobao protection for.

On the day my package was due to arrive, I received a text message saying 'Your package is coming'. My brushes were packaged in individual sleeves, placed inside a padded envelope which was then packed into a cardboard box before being wrapped in a standard plastic shipping packet. Ta-da! Here are my brushes out of their package and freshly washed.

After you've received your goods, you can go back to your Taobao account to click on the button that says 'I've received my items' because when you make a payment via AliPay, they hold your payment to the seller in escrow. Basically the seller doesn't get the money from AliPay until either the timer to receive your items goes down to zero or you manually confirm that you've received your package so they will release the funds to the seller. I choose to do this after I have washed my brushes and nothing disastrous eventuates. If you're new to fude or animal hair brushes, you should read my post on brush care and washing your brushes.

Go back to your 'My purchases' tab at the top of the page and you'll see a list of your purchases. There is a button to the right hand side that says 'confirm receipt'. Click on that box and it'll take you to an itemised list of your purchases. At the bottom of that, it asks for you to enter your 6 digit Alipay password in which will prompt a pop up asking you if you wish to release the funds from escrow.

Confirm and you're done. If you do not choose to manually confirm, Taobao will automatically do it for you when that time period they've deemed appropriate for your choice of postage elapses. If you have not received your package within that time, you need to apply for an extension of this protection period. If there is a problem with your package, go to the dispute resolution centre.

Online shopping on Taobao isn't that different from shopping via other western vendors. Most of it is intuitive so hopefully this post has just taken out the guesswork of buying in a foreign language. My top tips are to use the Google Translate option on your web browser, download the app on your smartphone to use the camera option and if in doubt, don't buy it. Happy shopping!

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