Experience of Taobao shopping

We specially invite David (a long-term customer from Canada) to co-write this shopping manual with Sydney (staff of 42agent.com), hoping it will be great help for your Taobao shopping. If you want to establish long term business with 42agent, please refer to Long term business.

As we know, taobao is the biggest c2c ecommerce platform in China. You can find everything on it, furniture,home appliances,outdoor items,clothes,shoes,phones,online game cards,too many to mention. Most of the items are really cheap, so it’s popular with shoppers. However, you also get headache because too many items there, and it’s hard to tell which one is good. In Chinese,”Tao” means compare and select carefully, while “Bao” means precious thing.Just from the name, we know that patience is needed when shopping on taobao.

I have several years’ taobao shopping experience. At the very begining, I bought from taobao directly, but after sometime, I tried to use service of 42agent, and found it useful and reliable. For the past 2 years, I had many many orders with 42agent, and everything goes well. So when Sydney from 42agent asked me to assist her to work for this brief manual, I was happy to help, for they really did good job for me during the past two years.

Buy from Taobao directly

In order to buy good items, you need to choose good Taobao seller first. The most simple criteria would be the sellers’ reputation grades. Usually, the reputation grades are marked by these icons: Crowns, Diamonds, Red hearts.The Crowns icon means the highest reputation, while red hearts means the lowest. The higher the reputation is, the more successful transactions the seller has handled. So I suggest you buy from sellers with good reputation, which means they may be more familiar with the selling process and can handle your order in a more professional way. 

After you choose a Taobao seller, the next step is to confirm if the item is in stock. The main communication tool is Alitalk. Sometimes, you can bargain with the seller for lower price. But as far as I know, most of the Taobao items are sold on wholesale price, so there is little space for bargain.

The full time taobao sellers are usually online the whole day, so it’s easy to contact them. However, many taobao sellers do business part-time, they may be off-line for several days, even weeks, so it’s hard to get contacted. According to my experience, if a seller is off-line for two days, I strongly suggest you change for another one.

In Chinese, there is a saying “shop around”,which means compare the price for same item in different sellers. Recently, a useful website for comparing price has come to be online, named “etao.com“. If you want to buy items with lowest price, you may try it.


When you buy from taobao directly, the most commonly used payment method is Alipay, similar to Paypal.Your can also pay via Chinese online banking.

Before making the payment, you have to confirm with the seller if he/she can ship to your country. As far as I know, many taobao sellers can not ship outside of China, because most of them do not understand English and have no experience of international shipping.


Basic requirements of buying from taobao directly

  • Firstly,understand Chinese. Simple Chinese words may be enough when you browse items on taobao, but good Chinese is required if you want to shop on it directly, because you have to communicate with taobao sellers about items in detail, such as price, size,colors,shipping, address,etc.
  • Secondly, you have to open an Alipay account, or Chinese bank card or credit card.
  • It’s better if you have Chinese domestic address, for many sellers can not ship abroad.
  • At last, you need patience to choose from taobao, a sea of items.

Though I know some Chinese, and have years’ experience on taobao, but I still feel unconvenient to shop on taobao by myself. The way I like most would be shopping with a taobao agent.They do everything for you, saving you a lot of trouble.

Shop with taobao agent

Comparison of direct shopping on taobao and using service of reliable taobao agent

CategoryBuy from taobao directlyShop with taobao agent
Communication languageChineseEnglish
Communication toolAlitalkMSN/Email
Payment methodsAlipay, Chinese bank card/credit cardPayPal or other international payment
ShippingChinese domestic addressAnywhere around the world
Service feeN/AUsually 8%-10% of items cost and domestic delivering fee

How to choose taobao agent

It’s vital important to choose a reliable taobao agent

Criterion of good taobao agent

  • Fast speed in order process. Usually, the good taobao agent will confirm your order within several hours after you place order, and they usually reply your email within several hours.
  • Sincere quote. Sometimes, taobao sellers will not charge domestic delivering fee for some items, and the honest taobao agent will also not charge you the fee.
  • Good agent will check the items carefully, for the right size, color and so on.
  • If some items is out of stock in the buying process, the good agent will email their customers for negotiation, and will act without customers’ permission.
  • If some unexpected overweight happens, the good taobao agent will try to make the parcel lighter, to save more international shipping fee for their customers.

I have been using service of 42agent for the past two years, and find this agent bears all the qualities of good taobao agent, and is highly recommended.

Order procedure of shopping with taobao agent

Firstly, choose items on taobao,and place order on the website of taobao agent. It’s quiet simple, just copy and paste the item URL, write down your special request in the remark field, then confirm the order.

When order is confirmed, the taobao agent will begin to confirm with sellers about the availability and domestic delivering fee. The confirmation time may vary: it may only takes several hours if all the sellers are online; it may even takes 2 or 3 days to confirm if the seller is off-line.

When all items are confirmed, the agent will email you, requesting the first payment. If one item is out of stock, the price for this one will not be counted.

As soon as the first payment is done, the agent will start buying from taobao.When all the items arrive at their office, they will check carefully,take photos, pack, then email you requesting the second payment.Usually, taobao agents have long-term cooperation with international shipping companies, so they can offer you some discount on shipping fee.

When the second payment is done, the agent will ship your parcel and input the tracking number in the order system, so that you can track any time.

Summary of shopping experience with taobao agent: using service of taobao agent will save you lots of trouble, and it’s worthing paying commission.

Tips on taobao shopping

Reputation grades of taobao sellers

You can see the reputation icons on the top of taobao shop page, see diagram below

The diagram above means this taobao seller has two crowns.The grades relationship between different icons are: “Red hearts < Diamonds < Blue < Yellow crowns”, see below:

The diagram above shows the general grades, and each grade is also divided into five level,for example, there are Red hearts 5,Diamonds 2,etc. Diamonds 2 > Red hearts 5.

Compared with taobao shops, the grades reputation in Tmall,a branch of taobao, is marked much more simpler ,as shown in the diagram below:

International shipping when you buy from Taobao

As we know, international shipping fee is very high, so I suggest you buy items with value over USD80, or the shipping fee may be higher than the item cost.

If your parcel weighs less than 2KG, you can consider shipping via airmail. Though the shipping time may be longer(about 2 weeks), the shipping fee is much cheaper.

There are two kinds of airmails, one with tracking and the other one doesn’t. The difference is that the former can be tracked while the latter can not. Of course, the shipping fee for the one with tracking is a little higher than that without tracking.

EMS is also divided into three types, Chinese EMS, Hongkong EMS and Singapore EMS. We usually use Chinese EMS, but may turn to Hongkong EMS or Singapore EMS for some special conditions.

The main language used in international shipping is English and French, so it’s better that you translate your address into English if you come from non English speaking countries.