How to buy furniture on Taobao: the easy & comprehensive shopping guide for home-owners on a budget

As most of us know by now, you can find anything and everything on Taobao, be it leeks or automated toilet bowls.

The affordable prices, wide product range, and good product quality (most of the time) are hard to resist, which is also why many new homeowners also turn to the Chinese social commerce website for this pricey investment: furniture.

However, shopping on Taobao can be incredibly confusing for those doing it for the first time – the fact that it is in Chinese doesn’t make it any easier. Attempting to ship a bulky sofa from China to Singapore also poses more problems than just buying, say, a wedding dress.

Hence, Avenue One has created a guide that will help you with your furniture-hunting on Taobao, complete with the best tips and hacks that you wished you knew earlier!

How to translate Chinese Taobao to English

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 on the top right-hand corner of your address bar once you open up the Taobao page, requesting you to translate the page. Just hit the ‘Translate’ button and watch the magic happen!

How to search for specific items on Taobao

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!

What are the right keywords to search on Taobao

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 understand 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.

Tip: Add the following keywords to filter and narrow your search results further!

  • 人气: Popularity
  • 销量: Sales volume
  • 信用: Credibility of seller
  • 价格: Price range

What is the Taobao Seller rating

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. For more details on (e.g. comparison of the seller’s ratings to the industry average), you can click into the shop and hover over the shop name.

There are 3 ratings in total and these scales represent:

  • Accuracy of the product description (描述相符),
  • Customer service (服务态度) and
  • Logistics (物流服务)

The rating scale is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.

For example, in the screenshot above, you can see that this furniture shop is rated 4.7 in all three aspects, which is actually lower than the ratings given to other similar furniture shops. Hence, these are red flags that the furniture shop in question may not be very reliable, and the furniture pieces you order are less likely to be satisfactory!

Understanding comments & reviews on Taobao

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 buyers’ feedback is 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.

Tip: You can also filter to only reviews that come with pictures to see how the actual product looks like. Most of the photos that are used by the vendors to sell the products are taken in flattering angles or a little too heavily edited in Photoshop, so we find that the buyer-generated photos are more realistic.

How to contact Taobao sellers directly

If there is anything you’re still unsure about, you can always contact the seller to get more details on the item. There are two ways you can communicate with your seller:

Live chat function

This live chat function allows you to communicate directly with the sellers. If you’re doing a bulk purchase, you can even try requesting for discounts!

Phone app

Taobao also has its very own chat phone app called 阿里旺旺 (AliWangwang), which you can use to communicate with the sellers.

You may request for the seller to

  • send real-life pictures of your preferred product and
  • to advise on the product dimensions.

You can also remind the seller to be extra careful with your parcel, especially if your item is fragile. The following are some packaging tips that you may choose to highlight to the seller during your purchase:

  • Use wooden boxes for shipping heavier or fragile items
  • Use cushioning materials such as bubble wraps to prevent loose contents
  • Sticking “Fragile” and “Handle with Care” stickers is insufficient

How to know which items can be shipped

Both Singapore and China have export and import regulations and carrier restrictions, so ensure that the products you’re looking to purchase are not prohibited from being shipped internationally.

The list of restricted and prohibited items also changes fairly regularly, so be sure to check the regulations pages regularly before making your purchase. It’s better to be safe than sorry, 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!

  • See the list of controlled & prohibited goods for import into Singapore here.
  • See the list of prohibited items for export from China here.

Tip: If you realise that the furniture you are buying contains restricted parts or items, you don’t have to give up on the product completely! Just let your seller know via AliWangwang that you want them taken out before your purchases are packaged and shipped over.

How to decide between Taobao shipping and agents

This is the part where it can get very complicated, so hang on tight!

While we used to have to go through Taobao agents like ezbuy in order to get bulky stuff like your huge bedpost over to Singapore, things have taken quite a turn in recent years: the official Taobao forwarder, Cainiao, started offering sea shipping for bulky shipments; on the other hand, Taobao also purged its partnerships with other forwarders and agents, including ezbuy.

The advantage of using agents is that 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 your 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.

Considering that you might be ordering heavy furniture and that shipping fees may vary depending on volume and weight, obtaining an 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, are there any advantages at all to shipping directly from Taobao using Cainiao? For starters, you do get the best product range and prices, but it requires a certain level of Chinese proficiency (or guesswork on Google Translate).

There is also the risk of Taobao clamping down on your third party agent and your order disappearing into midair, which is what happened to ezbuy’s customers in 2017 – surely you’re not keen on the idea of sleeping on the cold floor while waiting for your bed to be shipped over.

You can compare prices and delivery times on MoneySmart’s comprehensive price guide here.

Shipping options on Taobao

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After filling in your Taobao shipping address and card details, you’ll be asked to choose your shipping method (物流方式). Below are the three shipping options you have:

  • 官方物流-直送 (direct shipping): All your items will be sent to Taobao’s warehouse in China to be registered, and then immediately sent to you directly as individual packages. You’ll pay for the shipping fee together with the item.
  • 官方物流-集运 (consolidated shipping): All your items will be sent to Taobao’s warehouse in China to be registered, consolidated and repacked for optimal shipping, and then sent to you. You’ll only know the shipping fee after the items arrive at the Taobao warehouse.
  • 自行联系卖家寄送 (seller’s shipping): You have to negotiate with the seller directly for them to ship directly to Singapore. This option is troublesome and you need to converse fluently in Mandarin. Plus, there are some sellers who will refuse to personally ship overseas.

Tip: Consolidate shipping is highly recommended as it is cheaper and less troublesome than having to communicate to-and-fro with your seller. However, you will have an extra step to do, as you need to manually consolidate your items and pay for shipping separately: when your items arrive in Taobao’s warehouse in China, go into your orders and select on 合并转运 (consolidate shipment) under any item to consolidate your items.

How to pay on Taobao

Once you have keyed in your shipping details, you have to make payment for your purchase to confirm the order.

You can use your international or local credit card. Taobao accepts payment by international credit cards (VISA, MASTERCARD) and also Webmoney, RBK Money, Contact, Western Union, and China local bank wire transfer.

It usually takes approximately 24 hours for the system to verify your credit card details if you’re an international buyer.

When the payment has been verified, your order will then be processed, and you’ll be able to track your order status.

How to track orders on Taobao

Once your order has been placed, you’ll be able to access the following tabs.

Here are some useful tabs to take note of:

  • 待付款: Waiting for payment. Items in this tab have not been paid for and the order hasn’t been confirmed. If you wish to remove items from your shopping cart, you can still do so through this tab.
  • 待发货: Waiting for seller to ship out your parcel
  • 待收货: Waiting for buyer to receive the item. Once your shipment has reached this status, it means that your seller has shipped your purchase out.
  • 待评价: Awaiting review from buyer. You should’ve received your item at this point.

Where to buy pre-selected good-quality furniture from Taobao

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 utilise 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 variety is limited, it also means 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.

Best furniture to buy on Taobao

L-shaped sofa

Add a touch of class to your new home with this beautiful cream-coloured cloth sofa. Reviewers have praised this for the high quality and versatility in most homes – no wonder it sells more than 2,000 sets per month!

Get this at CNY1380 (around SGD167) here.

Storage bed

With shoebox units becoming more common, you may be lamenting at the lack of space you get for storage in your new home. Not to fret – this bed allows you to store a variety of things under your mattress – almost as though you have a whole cabinet hidden under your bed!

Get this at CNY1149 (around SGD222) here.

Wooden coffee table

Looking for a coffee table to grace your living room? Opt for this elegant solid wood coffee table that invokes hipster cafe vibes – especially when you put your favourite cup of coffee and magazine on it!

Get this at CNY1035 (around SGD200.20) here.

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