Taobao – I’m sure many of you have never even heard of this company, never mind bought anything via their site, but Taobao.com is a hugely important company that could change the way you import products from China, and most importantly, what price you get!
But let me back up a little bit and explain what Taobao.com actually is.
Basically, Taobao is an online marketplace where millions of sellers list their products for sale. Although you often hear people talk about it as an Alibaba alternative, really a more accurate description is – the eBay of China (seeing as the items are sold in retail quantities).
Now I know what you’re thinking – great, but what’s this got to do with importing and how can it help me!?
So this is a site designed for sellers in China, the cheapest place to buy items from pretty much every country in the world. And as these are domestic prices, in theory they should be cheaper than any other alternative!
As TaobaoFocus.com puts it:
No other online or offline business can beat the prices on Taobao.com: you can always buy items from Taobao.com at lower prices than anywhere else.
A bold claim, I know, and something that we will be investigating fully in a special 3 part series of posts. Part 1 is what you are reading now, in which I will introduce Taobao and explain what it is. Part 2 will be released on Wednesday, and in that I will pit Taobao head to head with AliExpress to test its pricing. And then we’ll wrap up the series on Friday, in Part 3, where I’ll give my final conclusions and recommendations, and also introduce another surprise site!
So let’s get back to Taobao as I want to first address one major point, and the main difficulty for anyone looking to buy products from Taobao.com:
It is all in Chinese!
Yep, as I mentioned above, this site is designed to cater to the domestic market and as a result there are a number of difficulties if you try to order from there directly:
- Language – the site is obviously not in English, and while you can of course try Google translate or something similar, that is not really an effective solution.
- Currency and Payment Options – items are listed and sold in the local currency, Renminbi (RMB).
- Shipping – again, as this is a marketplace for local sellers, the vast majority won’t offer any international postage options.
So what can you do!?
Well this is where Taobao Buying Agents come into play. Taobao buying agents are basically companies that offer assisted purchases from sites like Taobao.
They all work slightly differently and offer an array of services based on what you require but in simple terms, it proceeds something like this:
- Step 1 – Select the item(s) you want to buy and place your order, including the domestic shipping fee.
- Step 2 – The buying agent then places your order on Taobao.com.
- Step 3 – The buying agent receives your order, confirms all items are correct and does any needed quality checks.
- Step 4 – You pay the buying agent’s fees and the international shipping fee.
- Step 5 – Your order is then forwarded on to you by the buying agent.
- Step 6 – You receive your items.
As simple as that!
Now there are a number of buying agents/assisted purchasing companies online but for our purposes, and in this article, we will be concentrating on three who are well-known, have a good reputation, provide a high quality of service, and charge reasonable fees.
These three are:
I won’t go into too much detail about it, as they all have very good, informative websites that you can take a look at for yourself, but I want to briefly cover the process for ordering with each of these companies.
1) Register an account with Taobao Focus
This is obviously self-explanatory; simply create an account as normal using your email.
2) Submit your order via Taobao Focus
Previously this was a slightly complicated process, as you had to find the item on Taobao and paste the URL to Taobao Focus, using their guides and search translation. However they have recently introduced a new search feature which allows you to search for items in English directly on Taobao Focus, which is of course significantly easier:
Simply click search and you’ll get the results then and there:
*One important point to note – the prices shown here are the pre-discount prices on Taobao. And it being China, there is always a promotion/discount so the easiest way to see the actual price is to click on the “This item on Taobao” link, which will take you to the correct product page:
As you can see, in this case the actual price is less than half the displayed one, which is why you should always check the product page on Taobao itself!
Then all you do is add the items to your cart and checkout on Taobao Focus itself to complete the first payment:
Note – this first payment includes:
- The cost of all your items, as charged by the actual sellers.
- The domestic shipping fee. This is charged at 15RMB per seller (roughly £1.50).
- Taobao Focus’ commission, which is a very simple 10%, with a minimum fee of 35RMB.
3) Items are posted by the sellers to Taobao Focus.
Once you’ve checked-out, you wait for all your items to arrive at Taobao Focus’ warehouse in China. There they will check your items and then consolidate them all into one package, to save on shipping.
4) Make the second payment.
After your items have been checked and consolidated, Taobao Focus will provide you with an exact quote for international shipping. To get an estimate beforehand, you can use their shipping rates table for Air Mail, EMS, and DHL here:
Again, you simply pay them directly and they’ll take care of the rest. One thing I like a lot about Taobao Focus is that they don’t charge you any commission/fee for the internationally shipping, only their base 10% commission on the actual order value.
5) Wait for your items to arrive!
And that’s it! A fairly simple and pain-free process.
Moving on to YoyBuy and we can see that they have a similar ordering process (it’s a fairly standard procedure between most buying agents):
You either search the site using Google translate and the various guides available online (they will show you how Taobao works – where to find the item’s price, delivery info, seller feedback etc.). Here is one from Taobao Focus so you can see what I mean:
You can go on to YoyBuy’s live chat service, where they will actually help you search Taobao for the products you need, even going as far as asking the seller any questions you have!
Actually I’ve been extremely impressed with the service and customer support offered by these buying agents, but more on that a bit later!
Now I want to very quickly go over Eng Taobao’s ordering process, to make sure there aren’t any major differences. And as you can see, it mirrors the service offered by our two previous buying agents very closely:
But there is one difference with EngTaobao, compared to Taobao Focus and YoyBuy, and that is their commission.
Let’s take a look how they match up in this regard:
All things considered, I think their service fees are extremely reasonable. Taking into account that they buy the item for you, get it delivered to their warehouse, consolidate and repack multiple deliveries, and then arrange international delivery to you – 10% (or 6% in the case of Eng Taobao!) is a very, very small charge.
So far in our research everything looks good!
We’ve found the Chinese eBay with unbeatable prices and we’ve found 3 buying agents who are highly regarded, provide a good service, and charge reasonable fees.
The next step is to test just how true the pricing claims about Taobao are!
Is it all too good to be true? After all, can it really be that much cheaper than eBay or even AliExpress (which after all is also based in China)!?
Well that’s exactly what we’re going to find out on Wednesday, in Part II of this post series about Taobao, where I will do full price comparison for three different products.
See you then.
All the best,