Cool Stuff China: Internet shopping on Taobao

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.

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22 thoughts on “Cool Stuff China: Internet shopping on Taobao

  1. Great and useful post!

    We also buy lots of things from Taobao, from shoes to bathroom taps, even our VPN was bought in Taobao!

    When I started using it in 2010 I didn’t have online banking so I found paying was a little complicated. I had to go to the post office to recharge money on my Alipay account! Now I have online banking but C. does most of the shopping for me as I am too lazy (and the Bank of China website only works in internet explorer, so I can only recharge my Alipay account from the office!).

    I would add one downside to Taobao: you can easily go crazy there and buy way too many things 😀


    • Thanks for offering your insights!

      Going crazy and buying too many things is a problem that can happen even if you do normal shopping and don’t use Taobao, but I agree, the convenience of online shopping and often competitive prices on Taobao might aggravate this problem for some.


  2. I love Taobao ! I’ve been using it for quite a few years now, and I’m satisfied with the products I buy most of the time 😛 I really love how the deliver it to you, as it’s always a super happy guy that goes “here’s your packaged” haha, maybe because it was always the same guy who delivered so he was getting used to deliver to my house in Beijing. Its just so different from Norway, here you get a text saying you have to go to pick up ur packaged somewhere -.- haha. When my family and I were still living in China, and I introduced Taobao to them we probably say down for hours everyday to look through what we should buy.. But I didn’t have an online account so I would have to make my friend order for me , haha. It ended up being her part time job as my mum and brother especially, just continued buying things online..


  3. “加肥” had me laughing for a good while. Can you imagine the equivalent choice of words being used in English?

    Yeah, Taobao is great. In the West, Taobao is often patronizingly referred to as “the Chinese eBay”, but the reality is that Taobao is much better.


    • I agree, that would sound weird in English. eBay isn’t nearly as popular in Europe as Taobao is in China, I guess there’s a lack of equivalent websites you could compare it to in Europe or the US and that’s why it’s always referred to as the Chinese eBay.


        • I’ve never been a fan of eBay, if I buy sth online in Europe, I tend to use Amazon – but the choice isn’t as good as that on Taobao and it’s not as competitive, so it can’t really be compared. Also, I’ve only ever used it to buy e-books or electric devices.


    • Thanks for pointing this out, I already thought that google translate came up with the wrong pinyin for 加长 (but I was already wondering if I had pronounced 长 wrong all the time – I know that it has two different pronunciations, so I wasn’t sure).


  4. 这很象英国和美国的亚马逊…可是你写的“加肥”的尺寸真滑稽好笑 !!

    如果奥地利也用这类“加肥”或“加胖”的尺寸,你可想你的同胞反应如何? 😉

    我真欣赏你的著述及插画,美术… 又有风格又有幽默!



  5. 这很象英国和美国的亚马逊…可是你写的“加肥”的尺寸真滑稽好笑 !!


    我真欣赏你的著述及插画美术… 又有风格又有幽默!



  6. I used to like use Taobao when I was in China. Some of the products are really good and much cheaper than in store. But at the same time I realize that there are so many fake information on the website. The products looks different with the picture or the material is actually bad. So many people in China are addicted in shopping on Taobao. The interesting thing about Tobao is that Tobao language is widely used among young people, such as 亲(qin).


    • It seems to have created a culture of its own!

      You’re right, the photos often look different from the real product which is why it always takes me quite a while to go through all the pictures and information and figure out which ones are real and which aren’t.

      When it comes to imported products, I’ve been able to find quite a few really good ones (like organic olive oil) that were not only much cheaper than they would have been in a store, but also really good quality. I guess you can find everything from really bad to really good quality there.


  7. There are many great things on taobao but as in any kind of online shopping you should also try to check for reviews first before buying, to at least minimize the risks.
    We even found now on taobao some delivery discount company. For example, if a normal package from country A to China would costs 45Euros, it costs purchased from that company only 38Euros. It is very neat and great for us as we plan to deliver after summer very frequently packages to China 🙂


    • Exactly, reading through the comments is of big help, but be aware that some of the comments might be paid for, so if everything is positive, it might be fake. I’ll have to check out the delivery service discounts :D.


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