How to buy from Taobao in English

Definitely a long awaited post for people like me who are pretty much crap at reading Chinese! If you don’t know what Taobao is, you’ve been missing out on the greatest online shopping site ever. I’ve done a quick summary here so I won’t repeat it in this post. And I also won’t go through the whole how-to-register, how-to-ship over cos I’m a big supporter of Taobao agents. I choose to use them as I really hate receiving  wrong or damaged items. For more pros and cons, refer to the link previously provided.

What I will deal with is how to shop on Taobao, and the best ways to make sure you get more or less what you want… in English. Ready? Let’s go.

1. Shortcuts

There are three prominent agents in Singapore that I can think of: 65daigou, SGShop and Peeka. Of course, there’s a smattering of up and coming wannabe agents trying to get a foothold into this slice of the pie but the three aforementioned have been the main players for quite awhile. 65daigou is slightly different from the other two – SGShop and Peeka both focus only on Taobao; 65daigou allows you to shop and ship from anywhere in China, Taiwan and USA.

Each of these agents have a catalogue of what their customers have bought on their sites. One of my favourite daily hobbies is to scroll through like a voyeur into these people’s carts, especially when I’m in the mood to shop but don’t know what to buy. The pages are also neatly sorted into categories which is a big help.

2. Translation

Translating the whole page at once is not the preferred method for Taobao. It looks too weird. Plus, Taobao calls their items “宝”, which means “baby” in English. You’ll pretty much be facing a page full of this word.

The best way I have found to use these automatic translation is to browse in the normal Chinese website with the first link with translation tool open in a separate window. Then copy/paste product descriptions or other whatever needs translation.

If you still need help, the easiest way is to ask a Taobao Agent to give you a hand. The three agents do have some form of guidance by their Customer Service Officers, especially if  you already know what you want but don’t know how to search for it.

3. Searching

You won’t believe it but the best way is to search in English!

About 90% of the time, a Taobao search with an English word will hit the mark. Many products on Taobao are labeled with both English and Chinese names. And a growing number are labeled with English names alone.


Here’s where experience comes into play. Not many people know this (as proven by a conversation with my PRC boss yesterday) but when you search with a Chinese word instead of in English, the prices are dramatically lowered. Think T血 instead of T-Shirt or even 兰芝 instead of Laneige. Even if you don’t know what its called, search for it in English first.

With a combination of some smart deduction and Google Translate, you’ll be able to figure out the proper Chinese word in no time. Still lost? Welcome to my best friend. You’re welcome.

Taobao in English – a click and go version.

Search shortcut! An item may be sold by multiple sellers so you can just copy and paste the item title into Taobao’s search bar to get the best price possible.

(Images from gwensies)

4. Understanding the search results

Other than the images of the item that you have searched for, you’ll be bombarded with an entire slew of mind-boggling Chinese text. I won’t explain everything but I will point out a few features that’ll be useful to you.

The obvious choice is to go for price or price range but keep in mind that this is China. The cheaper you pay, the cheaper the quality gets. Its absolutely possible to see two identical images with huge price differences. You’ll learn your lesson when you decide to go for the cheaper one and end up receiving something that looks like it came out of an amateur sweatshop.

My personal shopping style is to go for Popularity – hey, if people are buying it then it must be okay right? It gets a little bit confusing here. So what’s the difference between popularity and quantity sold?

Simple: popularity refers to the number of people buying the item versus the self explanatory quantity sold. 10 people could each buy 1 beige shorts in the middle when only 1 bought the blue… costume so it’ll show up first in Popularity. But if 1 person bought 100 pieces of the blue costume as compared to only 10 folks getting a total of 10 shorts, the costume would come up tops in the Quantity Sold filter.

This does take some getting used to but learning along the way is pretty quick. Prices are in China RMB so do remember that, and filters can be sorted by ascending or descending. No explanation here, you should be able to understand ^ or v.

5. Understanding the item page

(Image from gwensies)

This is just about everything you would need to know about an item page. The cost and the domestic shipping charge. Sometimes there are promotions like limited time discounts, free domestic shipping or free gifts. Domestic shipping can also differ depending on your receiving warehouse’s location.

6. Choosing the right seller

But for the discerning buyer, there are a few more things you should consider.

Item description and transactions are more or less what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

But if you have made it this far, you have to check out the what nasty things Buyers have said in the past. Even though a Seller has some bad feedback, it doesn’t mean that you should never deal with them.  You can read about the dispute to figure out why it happened.

Some sellers also respond to their buyers in case of unfair disputes so this is a great way to gauge their attitude. Some of the feedback come with pictures too, so you can get a good idea of what you’ll be receiving.

There’s also a chart to show the type of feedback a seller has garnered. The chart translation as follows:

Red – Positive review

Green – Normal review

Black – Bad review

Left to right – Recent week | Recent month | Recent 6 months | 6 months ago | All-time

A good rule of thumb is at least 99% feedback on more than 500 transactions. Sellers are also graded on their Item Description, Service and Logistics Speed by Taobao. The seller in my image above is a pretty good one. He scores 4.8 for his 3 sections (and has higher scores than most other sellers!) while maintaining an impressive 99.44% of good reviews in 716 transactions.

One last quick tip to recognizing a good seller.

They also are given little icons. Some sellers also have a gold badge on their profiles awarded by Taobao for their outstanding services. Of course, the icons are not always accurate. I’ve been patronizing some of my favourite sellers from since they were Hearts. You’ll need to use all the tips and tricks in this very long post to decide if a Heart seller is worth the risk.

Now go forth, and welcome to the world of Taobao.

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