How to buy furniture from Taobao: Here’s a quick guide with useful tips all new home-owners need

There’s no doubt that everyone loves a good bargain. Most of us can’t resist the thrill of snagging what we think constitutes a great deal. It comes as no surprise, then, that Taobao is one of the most popular shopping sites out there. The Chinese website is a treasure trove of items that you can purchase at insanely cheap prices including car parts, kitchen gadgets, and furniture. The household section, in particular, is chock-full of gems that is sure to leave you in disbelief. Full-sized sofas that can cost you a pretty penny over at Ikea are sold for SGD20 on the site, and there are even king sized beds that are sold at the low, low price of SGD188. Say what?!

But if the chunks and chunks of Chinese text and order forms appear daunting to you, fret not: here’s an Avenue One handy guide of tips and tricks on buying furniture over on Taobao. Read on!

1. How to translate Chinese Taobao to English

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Considering that the entirety of the website is written in Chinese, it seems that a strong grasp of the language is recommended when it comes to shopping on Taobao. Thankfully, there are ways to get around that! The easiest method is to simply download Google Chrome and to utilise it when on Taobao. The browser enables instant web page translation. While the translation may not always be 100% accurate (so it might sound slightly odd), you’ll be able to make smart guesses about it and be able to navigate the site easily after. A prompt will pop out once you open up the Taobao page, requesting you to translate the page, so just hit the ‘Translate’ button and watch the magic happen!

2. How to search for specific items on Taobao

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Have an idea of exactly what you’re looking for? Save time by uploading a picture of the item to the system to get the closest possible result. Just click on the camera icon to the right of the search bar, upload the image, and voila! Instant results.

What’s even better is the fact that the tool has advanced features that allows you to select or zoom in on certain features that you’re looking for in a picture with multiple items. For instance, if you’re looking for cushions rather than the actual sofa itself, selecting the red button that indicates, ‘select the main box’ within the photo allows you to crop and focus the image on the item that you’re really looking for. Talk about maximum efficiency!

3. Knowing the right keywords

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Knowing the right keywords to specific styles and items that you want can greatly ease the shopping process, and also get you the type and kind of products you want so much more quickly. If you know Chinese, try typing in the name of the item you want (e.g. sofa) and see the suggestions that Taobao provides and select the one that’s closer to what you’re trying to find.

4. Understand the Taobao Seller rating

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Example of how furniture on Taobao looks like

Before you go running off to purchase that perfect table just yet, it’s advisable to take a look at a few factors before committing to a purchase. Remember, Taobao contains thousands and thousands of different sellers hawking their goods, and while some stores may have great and reliable buys, there are some that may be of disappointing quality and or are complete scams. The best way to make sure you’re getting the bang for your buck? Check out the seller ratings to see what others are saying about the product in question. Located right underneath the actual order form is information on the seller. You can click on the total evaluation tab to check out the average rating they’ve earned. The rating scale is from 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Easy!

5. Go through the comments section

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Scroll further down from the seller’s ratings to check out the comments and feedback to gauge if you should take the leap and move the product over to your cart. Other buyer’s feedback are essential in ensuring the reliability and quality of the product that you’re going to get, so it’s a good idea to scour through a few of them to get a clear picture of everyone else’s experiences.

Extra tip: You can also filter to only reviews that come with pictures to see if the actual product bought looks like what you envision. Because most of the photos that are used by the vendors to sell the products are taken in flattering angles, we find that the buyer-generated photos are more realistic.

6. Contact the seller directly

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Example of how furniture on Taobao looks like

If there’s anything you’re still unsure about, you can always contact the seller to get more details on the item. After all, Taobao has a instant message service that allows you to get in direct contact with the sellers. Click on the blinking blue icon next to the item to initiate a conversation, though you may be prompted to install some plugins if you don’t have them. Also, the language barrier may be an issue, but you can always opt for Google Translate or consult someone who is fluent in Chinese.

7. Make sure your item can be shipped

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Example of how furniture on Taobao looks like

Both Singapore and China have export and import regulations and carrier restrictions, so ensure that the products you’re looking to purchase is not prohibited from being shipped internationally. The list of restricted and prohibited items also changes fairly regularly, so it’d be smart to check the official Chinese customs page before making your purchase. It’s be better to be safe than sorry, though, especially when blindly going ahead with your order can lead to a delayed delivery, additional charges, or even leading to your item being destroyed. Yikes!

8. Decide if you require an agent

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Example of how a home furnishing item look like on Taobao

Now that ezbuy has, unfortunately, decided to end its services with Taobao, you’ll have to seek other agents to forward your items over. Luckily, Taobao has recently launched forwarding services specifically for international buyers.

With both these services, the process is a lot simpler, reminiscent of shopping at most online stores. Check out, select the method that you prefer, and make payment. The item will then be delivered to you directly at you residence, hassle-free! The best part is that it does all the work for you, calculating the domestic and international shipping fee and basically consolidating all the necessary information for you. However, do note that certain products are not eligible for these services. They will not be included in the total amount, and the item will be stated under the ‘Submit Order’ button to inform you as such.

But, considering that you might be ordering heavy furniture and that shipping fees may vary depending on volume and weight, obtaining a agent to handle the many aspects of this process is a sound idea. These agents might have different methods of shipping and packing, which could possibly mean cheaper shipping costs. The popular agents that a large number of Singaporeans use include SGShop, Lete, and Peeka. Do note that each agent charges differently for each cost such as handling fees, storage fees, and so on, so make sure to read carefully before coming to a decision!

9. Ensure the quality of your product

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SGShop

It is impossible not to be suspicious of the quality of these products when they’re priced so low, and with no other way of making sure that the table you bought is, in fact, not made out of cardboard (other than going through the comments, that is), the second best alternative is to utilize the services of one of the agents mentioned above: SGShop. It provides a service known as Smartshop, where there are listings of pre-selected items from Taobao that are deemed ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ based on the seller’s rating, quantity and reputation. While this means that you’ll have to shop through the Smartshop site, where there is lesser variety, it also means an ease of mind when it comes to making major purchasing decisions. Lazada also has a Taobao Collection section where you can buy Taobao products directly from Lazada. This service curates products that are of quality, and you can navigate through an English site.

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