Today, I’m introducing a new category to my blog. It’s called Cool Stuff China and in it I will describe some of the things or services you can get here that are either special to China or very popular here – or that I personally think are pretty cool. Some of the things or services I describe in the category Cool Stuff China might be common or exist in similar forms in other countries. Let us know if you’ve come across similar things or services somewhere else and what you think about them.
One of the websites that has proven most useful for me for internet shopping is Taobao. Taobao is THE internet shopping portal in China. You can find almost any product you’re looking for on Taobao, starting from clothes to books to electronics to ingredients for cooking. Whenever I need to stock up on organic olive oil or Italian white wine vinegar, this is the place I go to. Also, since I’m taller than the average Chinese woman, it has done a very good job in providing me with long enough and comfy maternity clothes (which I probably wouldn’t have been able to find in a small roadside shop). If you’re looking for longer than average sized trousers, for example, just add 加长 (jiā cháng) to your search. It works the same with plus sizes – add 加肥 (jiā féi) and you’ll find a choice of bigger sized clothes.
But Taobao doesn’t stop at selling products. You can find many services online too. When my husband, his cousin, wife and I went to Thailand in February 2013, my husband sent his and his relatives’ passports to a visa service agency in Guangzhou – how did he find them? Via Taobao. The service was good and reliable.
Another recent popular service on Taobao is that of a funding corporation that lets you save money. It works similar to a savings account in a bank, but you’re not bound and the interest rates are counted daily and are comparatively high (they are lowered day by day, but as of April 2014 are still higher than what you’d get in a bank). This kind of savings account comes with an app for your phone where you can track how much money you have in your account, how high the interest rate currently is (and how it’s changed over the past few months) and how much money you have “made” on each individual day. A friend has recommended it to my husband, which is why he tried it out in the first place. Because this service is so popular and banks want to compete with it, China is now trying to set some limits on how much you can transfer on a single day or how much you can save in one account. We’ll see how this all works out in the future.
If you aren’t sure about a product or service on Taobao, you can contact the shop owner (or the person working for them) via online chat. Many shop owners make sure that someone’s online to answer your questions most of the time during the day. This way, my husband has helped me find out the right size for maternity clothes (not an easy task given the fact that my body size seems to change daily now) and been able to ask about many other details concerning our purchases.
Is there a downside to using Taobao? Yes. For one, it’s in Chinese, so if you aren’t fluent in Chinese, I’d refrain from using it. Why? Because the quality of products really depends. I always take my time reading through all the comments people have left, looking at the photos and figuring out if what I’m looking at is a real product or a cheat. There are cheaters on Taobao, which is another reason why you have to be careful with using it. We have done well with reading through all of the information provided on product or service pages, reading through all the comments and looking at all the pictures. Comments might be paid for, so that’s another thing you have to be careful of.
For me, Taobao is not necessarily about saving time (because reading through all the product pages does take its time, especially for a non-native Chinese speaker like me), but it has proven very useful in that we find what we need all in one place and don’t need to waste our weekends going to a faraway place for shopping just to find out that all the trousers are too short.
Have you ever used Taobao? How did you like it? I’d love to read about your experience.