(UPDATE: We ended up losing a couple of boxes and incurring a cost of SGD 100 after factoring in the compensation. As such, we decided to stop using MRC and change shippers.)
There’re probably many people who’re afraid of buying from Taobao, because it’s so darn complicated and in a ‘foreign’ language. Buying from Amazon or iHerb is super easy, you add items to your cart, you add your address, and you pay. The next thing you do, you track the items, and then you receive them. But Taobao is just so cheap that you should learn to buy and ship from Taobao to Singapore, even if it’s complicated. It’ll save you a ton of money. Here’s what I’ve learnt.
Choosing and buying your Taobao items
- First, find your stuff
- Look for the inspiration and try to hazard a guess at the Chinese keywords OR search using Chinese keywords generically OR search using English keywords and check those listings to find their Chinese words
- Sort by amount of sales – the default view is always the mixed one, which almost never gives the best option
- Always go for the listing with the most good reviews, most reviews, most picture reviews – in that order
- If there’re similarly popular items, you’d want the more expensive one or one which has the better customer service
- Next, ask more about the item
- At this point, you should download 阿里旺旺 and talk to the seller. Ask how the seller will package the product for delivery, whether they can do wooden crates, add bubble wrap. Ask them more about the product. Even if you’ve no questions, ask them how fast the delivery is.
- Sometimes sellers’ll say certain extras (like extra light bulks or adding wooden crates) cost more and they need to amend the prices. That means they’ll amend the prices after you’re at the payment screen, after you 下单 (submit the order and leave after you reach the Alipay screen).
- Don’t add to cart first! Copy and paste the URL and item title into a word document.
- Milk your Shopback cash back gao gao
- Go to Shopback (caveat: shameless referral link here) and use the Chrome extension (no shameless link here). Disable your ad-block/ghostery/disconnect.
- Paste the item name into the Shopback toolbar at a Taobao page. Remember to always shop at i.taobao.com. For some reason the total number of sales is wonky on i.taobao.com and the main website. Double check the total number of sales on the actual product page.
- Choose the product you want. There’ll be different colours, sizes, and types of products. (Take note that there’d also be listings that the sellers says not to select for purchase, those are usually to convey a message for selection.)
- Confirm your order and pay
- Remember to add in the comments before you confirm the order, anything that your shipper requires you to insert.
- Double check your addresses and 下单 (place order).
- Tell the seller to change the order where necessary.
- Go to your 已买到的淘宝 and click pay.
That wasn’t too hard, eh?
Choosing your shipping option
There are several choices: Taobao global direct delivery, official forwarders, and third party forwarders. There’s a great deal of content online that deals with this issue in depth, so I shan’t revisit things that’re common knowledge.
Taobao Global Direct
Taobao global direct shipping gets a shipper to deliver your order asap after you order. It’s good because everything is integrated into the system. You make one order, pay for your items, and wait for them to arrive at your home. You pay GST only when your delivery order exceeds SGD 400. It’s not always easy to contact Taobao if anything pops up, you’ll need to do it at their hours, through the website. But that’s a small point.
However, one big problem with Taobao direct is the lack of communication. I ever faced a problem before a long time ago when I just started out and chose the service – Taobao shipped my items out without everything having arrived. One item was not sent out by the seller before he was waiting for me to verify my order through the 阿里旺旺 platform, but Taobao insisted that they had a 5-day policy from the order date till the items are shipped out. And you only get one shot at sending out your items, you make an order and that’s it. If you find anything else you need to make a new shipment.
I’d recommend sea shipping by third party forwarders for bulky and sensitive items. Third party forwarders tend to be cheaper when it comes to sea shipping and they are more flexible. The cost is calculated based on the number of cubic metres you use up (1 x 1 x 1m), regardless of the actual weight (unless you sink the ship with something so heavy, like Thor’s hammer). You can have a huge flat table which is long but flat, and still add more boxes on top of it in the ship. Which means you would want to fill up the space with heavy items because sea shipping. Same thing for prohibited items like batteries and knives, because these can’t be shipped via air.
We found this guy promoting his services on HWZ forums, MRC. His rates are the lowest we’ve seen. The speed of delivery for sea shipping is fine. He usually ships the goods before you pay him to speed things up. We’ve always texted him as and when we needed help. He was always able to advise us appropriately.
The whole process to get sea shipping from MRC is the same as the typical Ezbuy ship-for-me service and a little more complicated than Ezbuy buy-for-me:
- You change your delivery address to the China warehouse address that MRC gives you.
- Add the marking that MRC gives you in the description. I use “请在所有包装或箱子上注明KENXXX,不然货仓可能会拒绝签收”
- To be safe, use 阿里旺旺 to tell the sellers to indicate clearly. Your parcels won’t get lost if they don’t have the marking, but the chance of it missing is greater.
- If you bought only single items, then get the delivery tracking numbers from the Taobao system, under the 已买到的淘宝 section.
- If you bought multiple items from the seller, the seller might ship in more than one parcel. Use 阿里旺旺 to ask the seller for all the delivery tracking numbers. This part is very important, because if they shipped 3 items to you in 3 boxes but you only tracked 1, you lose 2 of them. The seller will not refund you because it’ll show that you received the item. The Taobao system usually shows only 1 item, and I usually see at most 2 numbers.
- Track your orders in the Taobao system or courier companies’ systems.
- When everything is 签收 (signed for by the warehouse), MRC will email you a form.
- Fill up the form with all the tracking numbers, shipping companies, costs of items, and short descriptions of the items. These are mainly for identifying your stuff and submitting info to the shipping company.
- Once done, send it to him. MRC will calculate the total cost, which will include the shipping cost, GST (which is applicable for all sea shipping), and insurance (if you opt for it).
- MRC is nice enough to ship is asap in the meantime you sort out the money stuff. You transfer the money via bank transfer and that’s it.
If this whole process stresses you out, then you can approach MRC to get him to buy for you at no cost (at least for now it’s free of charge). His exchange rate is very competitive so sometimes I feel like just letting him handle all my stuff, until I remember that I need to use my own shopback account to get those cash rebates.
Or if you don’t like him, maybe you can try SFinex as well. You can add the lady boss on QQ: 598844064, 阿里旺旺: sfinex_cs, or WeChat: sfinex. She’s the most responsive on WeChat.
You should use official forwarders for small and light items like paper clips or cloths. I usually just go with whichever is cheaper and does not have restrictions that affect me (like length). It usually is ZTO nowadays.
They typically calculate the costs via volumetric or actual weight. Use the latter if the actual weight is much heavier than volumetric (e.g. dumbells). The advantage is that you can consolidate your goods. These are tracked and automatically handled at the forwarder’s warehouse. You pay GST only when it exceeds SGD 400. The cost of air shipping is also typically the lowest, even lower than third party forwarders, probably because they handle things in bulk.
But official forwarders have limitations as well. You cannot ship prohibited items like batteries, liquids, gases, knives, and lights. There is also a strict limitation on how big the parcels can be, especially the length of the items and combined sizes.
If possible, try to avoid Lazada sea shipping, because you might as well go with MRC. There have also been horror stories about Lazada sea shipping. Seems like the customer service is nothing fantastic and prices are not cheap.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
Use MRC’s sea shipping for large furniture and things you can afford to wait. Go for official air shipping for small and light items, or if you really need it fast. Use Oops/Peeka/Ezbuy if your Chinese D7 standard, but you’ll need to pay more. Don’t use Taobao global direct.
If you’ve encountered any problems, do head over to our new guide on Taobao tips and FAQs on shopping and shipping as well!