Budget guide on Taobao shopping and shipping to Singapore

How do you buy and ship from Taobao, the most value-for-money online marketplace? How do you get into shopping there and then doing Taobao shipping to Singapore?

Before you begin, read our bad experiences first

Before you get into this article, read our bad experiences first: our shipper who lost our whole parcel and another one who lost a few items. Know what you’re going to face and if that’s still your cup of tea then go all in and read the rest here!

Don’t let shopping on Taobao scare you

You’ve seen and heard many people doing it, so much as that many are blaming it for killing Singapore’s retail stores. But there’re still many Singaporeans who’re afraid of from doing anything on Taobao, because it’s complicated and in a ‘foreign’ language. Like, where do you even start? And not to mention, Taobao shipping to Singapore presents a whole new nightmare. You’d definitely be familiar with stories of people losing their parcels (note: so have we).

In contrast, shopping on Amazon or iHerb is super easy. You add items to your cart, you add your address, and you pay. The next thing you do is track the items. Then you receive them. Simple.

However, Taobao is just too cheap. So you should learn to shop and ship from Taobao to Singapore. It’ll save you a ton of money. That’s awesome if you’re a poor and young couple like us.

Our budget guide to Taobao shopping and shipping to Singapore

Since you’re here, you’re probably considering to take the plunge after reading our previous article on why you should buy stuff from Taobao instead of Ikea or local furniture shops.

A plunge we did. We’re huge Taobao shoppers. We’ve bought a lot of stuff so far. If you’re interested, you can read about our reviews for some of the stuff we’ve bought like lights (must buy), a cabinet (so so only), and ceiling fans (better not to buy).

Otherwise, let’s start with our budget guide on how you can do Taobao shopping and shipping to Singapore. Everything here has been based on our good and bad experiences. We’d also be happy to hear your experiences in the comments section below.

It’s no wonder Taobao scares people, the website user interface is incredibly messy.

5-step guide to Taobao shopping

Step 1: Find your stuff.

  1. You need to get your keyword first. This is harder than it sounds.
  2. 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 the corresponding Chinese words OR you can try using image search, which honestly isn’t very good.
  3. Sort by amount of sales (select 销量 instead of 综合排序) – the default view 综合排序 almost never gives the best option in terms of prices, quality, and popularity.
  4. Always go for the listing with the most good reviews, most reviews, most picture reviews – in that order. There’re many problems with fake Taobao reviews nowadays, so you can never be too careful.
  5. If there’re many items with similar popularity, you’d want a) the more expensive one, b) the one with the better customer service, and c) the one with better bundle/quantity discounts.

Step 2: Ask more about the item.

  1. At this point, you should download 阿里旺旺 and talk to the seller. You usually click on a blue bubble beside the seller’s name to activate 阿里旺旺, or a popup will emerge to ask you to either download the software or use the web interface. (Protip: the web interface sucks.)
  2. 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.
  3. Sometimes sellers will say certain extras (like extra light bulks or adding wooden crates [打木架]) cost more and they need to amend the prices. That means they’ll amend the prices after you 下单 (submitted the order and reached the Alipay screen where you need to key in your credit card details).

Step 3: Make your shopping as value for money as possible.

  1. This is the auntie step already. (For those non-aunties, you can skip this section. But if not, let’s be super aunties and save even more money!)
  2. Before you add your items to your shopping cart, ask yourself whether you’ve been shopping in a way that makes shipping efficient. The goal is always to get the best prices and quality from a few sellers.
    • By efficient we mean consolidating items in as few boxes as possible and making sure that you don’t “waste” volumetric weight.
    • For example, there’s no point buying a nail clipper from a seller, a cable from another seller, and a shoe horn from yet another one. The sellers will send you the stuff in 3 different boxes, each with tons of padding and a lot of empty space inside the box. You end up paying shipping for air from China to Singapore.
    • The solution is to buy from as few sellers as possible instead. Prices are usually very competitive so you won’t lose much by buying from only a few sellers.
    • This is something that no one really tells you, but we realised it after spending tons of time learning how to ship on Taobao.
    • Of course, if there’re no alternatives to get the best prices and quality then you should just buy from different sellers. Sometimes that happens.
  3. If you want to expedite your shipping, take note where the seller ships from (within China). If you need it asap, then try to find a seller who ships from around the same province/city as the shipper’s warehouse. Otherwise, your parcel will take a few days to travel across China.
  4. Don’t add to your shopping cart (购物车) first! Copy and paste the URL and item title into a word document.

Step 4: Milk your Shopback cash back.

  1. Go to Shopback (caveat: shameless referral link here) and use the Chrome extension (no shameless link here). Remember to disable your Ad-Block/Ghostery/Disconnect plugins.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. If it’s too tiring for you, or if the cash back seems damn little (often can be less than $1), always remember: you’re $aving more money. $o don’t give up. It’ll all add up.

Step 5: It’s time to pay and buy your stuff

  1. Go to the shopping cart and check out whether there’re any coupons for your items. You can collect coupons under the 优惠券 drop-down menu.
  2. Select your items and check out (结账) so you can go to the payment screen.
  3. If you’re using official forwarders, sometimes you’d get an error message at this stage that the item cannot ship out of China. For example if you want to buy a battery through ZTO, then the system won’t let you proceed without deleting the item.
  4. Select your desired shipper. 直送 means Taobao global direct shipping and 集运 refers to consolidated shipping via third party forwarder. We explain these options further below. To select something else just select 修改服务商.
  5. Check your China domestic postage fee (运送方式) and whether it’s free.
  6. Remember not to deselect the discounts under the 优惠方式 column or the 店铺优惠 drop-down box.
  7. Remember to add in any relevant comments (e.g. design, colour, or size) in the 给买家留言 text box before you confirm the order. It’s basically anything that your shipper requires you to insert.
  8. Double check your addresses before you click 下单 (place order).
  9. Enter your payment details and pay!
  10. If the seller says he/she needs to change the prices, then tell the seller to change the order accordingly before you pay. E.g. if they need to change the prices to add in the fees of adding a wooden crate. The seller will often ask you to 下单 and then let them know, because they need you to do that before they can amend the final price. Then you go to your 已买到的淘宝, click pay and go through with payment normally.

Ok la, only 5 steps what. That wasn’t too hard, eh?

Options for Taobao shipping to Singapore

Don’t forget there’s a huge part after you finish shopping – you need to do Taobao shipping to Singapore. 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 we won’t revisit things that’re common knowledge.

Taobao Global Direct

Don’t doubt the efficiency of Taobao.

Taobao global direct shipping gets a shipper to deliver your order asap after you order. They apparently guarantee that they would deliver in 5 days from their warehouse, otherwise they’d refund you.

It’s also good because everything is seamless. You make one order, pay for your items, and wait for them to arrive at your home. Like any air shipping, you pay GST only when your delivery order exceeds SGD 400.

But there’re a lot of disadvantages.

  • It’s usually more expensive, sometimes much more (e.g. double the price of official forwarders in the past).
  • 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.
  • The bigger problem with Taobao global direct is the lack of communication. We ever faced a problem before a long time ago when we just started out and chose the service. Taobao shipped our items without everything having arrived at the warehouse. One item was not sent out by the seller as he was waiting for us to verify (literally click confirm) order through 阿里旺旺; but Taobao shipped out the partial shipment because of their 5-day guarantee. So their 5-day guarantee is a double-edged sword. It might not always be a good thing to ship out so fast. Or at least Taobao should tell their customers beforehand.
  • 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 do a new shipment. But then you’d waste money, because the initial chargeable weight is always more expensive.

Sea Shipping (third party)

That’s probably why your sea shipments take an eternity to reach.

We’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 forwarder calculates your fee based on the number of cubic metres you use up (1 x 1 x 1m). That’s regardless of the actual weight, unless you sink the ship with something super 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’d want to fill the space with heavy items. Same thing for prohibited items like batteries and knives, because these can’t go under air shipping.

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 but much slower than air shipping. MRC usually shipped our stuff before we paid him, so that the sea shipping was already faster. We always texted him as and when we needed help as well. He was always able to advise us appropriately.

But reliability is questionable, he was not reliable after all. We ended up losing a couple of boxes and incurring a loss of SGD 100 after factoring in the compensation. As such, we decided to stop using him.

There’re many other alternatives like Sfinex, Oops, Peeka, or 86 Ocean Freight. You can google for some reviews. We have only used Sfinex before and they were pretty fast in shipping and very responsive over WeChat. Their prices were quite good as well. You can add the lady boss on QQ: 598844064, 阿里旺旺: sfinex_cs, or WeChat: sfinex.

Normal process

The whole process to get sea shipping from third party forwarders is the same as the typical Ezbuy ship-for-me service but more complicated than Ezbuy buy-for-me:

  1. You change your delivery address to the China warehouse address that the shipper gives you.
  2. Add the marking that the shipper gives you in the description, if applicable. We use “请在所有包装或箱子上注明XXX,不然货仓可能会拒绝签收”. Not all shippers require this.
  3. To be safe, use 阿里旺旺 to tell the sellers to indicate the marking clearly. Your parcels won’t automatically disappear if they don’t have the marking, but the chance of it going missing is greater.
  4. 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.
  5. If you bought multiple items from the seller, the seller might ship in more than one parcel to the warehouse. Use 阿里旺旺 to ask the seller for all the delivery tracking numbers. This part is very important. 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 as it’ll show that you received the item. The Taobao system usually shows only 1 item and we usually see at most 2 numbers. There’s nothing worse than shipping chairs and receiving only the legs.
  6. Track your orders in the Taobao system or courier companies’ systems.
  7. When everything is 签收 (signed for by the warehouse) in the system, you should fill in the details of your parcels either over email (like how MRC does it) or a web interface (like SFinex does it).
  8. Fill up the details with 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 so they can pack your items.
  9. Once done, MRC or the SFinex system will calculate the total fees, which will include the shipping fee, GST (which is applicable for all sea shipping), and insurance (if you opt for it).
  10. Pay for it and everything’s done. For a guide on using SFinex, you can check out the section below.
Phew that was a long one.

Air Shipping (third party – Sfinex)

We’ve been using Sfinex for third party air shipping as well. It’s useful for large but light parcels, because there’s an option to air ship by normal weight. We usually select the 免抛 (i.e. ship by normal weight), so we don’t have to worry about expensive volumetric weight fees. The 半抛 is usually more expensive, because they take half volumetric weight and half normal weight.

The process for payment is more complicated:

  1. You change your delivery address to the China warehouse address that Sfinex gives you in the members’ area.
  2. 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.
  3. If you bought multiple items from the seller, the seller might ship in more than one parcel to the warehouse. Use 阿里旺旺 to ask the seller for all the delivery tracking numbers. Remember, this part is very important.
  4. Track your orders in the Taobao system or courier companies’ systems.
  5. When everything is 签收 (signed for by the warehouse) in the system, you should fill in the details of your parcels through Sfinex’s web interface (courier company, delivery tracking no, brief description, number of boxes, and value of item).
  6. There’re many types of shipping options. Select the desired one. If in doubt, select 新加坡免抛.
  7. Once submitted, SFinex’s system will calculate the shipping weight and fee.
  8. For SFinex, you can’t pay via normal means because we don’t have a China-issued credit card. So you pay via Taobao. SFinex will send you a link to a 1 yuan dummy item on Taobao, you’d just buy the quantities needed to pay for your shipping. E.g. if your fee is RMB 120, just buy 120 of this RMB 1 item.
  9. The next step is to submit a form (similar to Ezbuy) to say how much you paid, when you paid, and upload a screenshot of the payment. They’ll verify it. What happens is you loaded your account with money, which can be used for payment.
  10. The final step is to go to the air shipment orders page and click “[付款]”. This uses the money you loaded to pay for the shipment. (Ignore the part where it says 待付款, re-used the same screenshot)
  11. When payment is verified and correct your stuff will be shipped out.

Official Forwarders

You should use official forwarders for small and light items like clothes or charging cables. We usually just go with whichever is cheaper and does not have restrictions that affect me (like length).

One thing to note is Taobao has been changing forwarders every few months. Very strange. We used to use Prouter and Simply Post. Then those disappeared, replaced by ZTO and Dex-i. Those didn’t give us any problems and were fast.

Now ZTO and Dex-i have also been dropped. There’s only Cai Niao (菜鸟) and 4PX now, which are quite familiar courier companies in China. Cai Niao is apparently owned by Taobao’s parent company Alibaba. It seems like Taobao’s taking over shipping and doing it themselves.

These official forwarders typically calculate the fees via volumetric or actual weight. Use the latter if the actual weight is much heavier than volumetric (e.g. dumbells).

It is good to use them.

  • You can consolidate your items. The forwarder automatically tracks and handles the items at their warehouse. You pay GST only when it exceeds SGD 400.
  • The fees for air shipping are 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 food, batteries, liquids, gases, knives, lights, and some plastics. There is also a strict limitation on how big the parcels can be, especially the length of the items and combined sizes.
  • (If you’re ever in doubt, just check with the customer service via the Taobao website before buying the item. It sucks to have your items rejected by the warehouse. And then you have to either throw the item away or pay more to ship them back to the seller.)
  • If possible, always try to avoid Lazada sea shipping. There have also been horror stories about Lazada sea shipping. Seems like the customer service is nothing fantastic and prices are not cheap. So it’s not worth it.

Shipping fees

We compared the shipping fees from the main options (excluding buy-for-me services). So who’s cheapest? In general, go for Taobao official air shipping forwarders if you want to ship small and light items and get it fast. If it’s heavy items, you might want to try large sea shipping from SFinex, Cai Niao, or MRC, although the first 2 is not very cheap. But try to break up your purchases even if you pay more for shipping, because you will lose less money if the shipper loses your items.

MethodShipperPrice for initial weightSubsequent pricesWeight limitationSize limitationSpeed of shippingRecommended for
AirTaobao global direct¥29 for 1kgNA (calculated at product page)25kgHeight+weight+depth not more than 130cm.FastestSmall and light stuff like clothes, cables, mats
AirCai Niao¥29 for 1kg¥10.5/500g25kgSingle side not more than 80cm, height+width+depth not more than 150cm.FastestSmall and light stuff like clothes, cables, mats
Air4PX¥33 for 1kg¥11.0/500g30kgSingle side not more than 120cm, height+width+depth not more than 200cm.FastestSmall and light stuff like clothes, cables, mats
Air4PX (POPStation)¥31 for 1kg¥10.0/500g30kgCannot exceed 61*42*37cm (basically size of the POPStation)Fast (but need to self collect)Small and light stuff and if you're always not home
AirSfinex¥30 for 1kgSubsequent: ¥30 for 1.1-2 kg; ¥24 for 2.1-10kg; ¥21.5 for more than 10.1kg25kg (overweight charge, exact limitation unknown)Single side not more than 120cm, 2 sides cannot exceed 70*70cm (e.g. 90*20*20cm can, 90*80*20cm cannot). (oversize charge, exact limitation unknown)FastLarge and light stuff like painting, shower curtain rod, plastic containers
Sea shipping (by weight)Cai Niao (less than 30kg)¥26 for 1kg¥7.9/1.0kg80kgSingle side not more than 100cm, height+width+depth not more than 180cmSlowWhen you need to ship more than 80kg but less than 1cbm.
Sea shipping (by weight)Cai Niao (small sea shipping, more than 30kg)¥24.5 for 1kg¥7.9/1.0kg80kgSingle side not more than 100cm, height+width+depth not more than 180cmSlowWhen you need to ship more than 80kg but less than 1cbm.
Sea shipping (by volume)Cai Niao (large sea shipping)¥492.0 for 1cbm¥4.9/0.01cbm500kgSingle side not more than 250cm, height+width+depth not more than 650cmSlowestA lot of heavy or sensitive stuff like tables, chairs, cabinets
Sea shipping (by volume)Sfinex¥580.0 for 1cbm (1-5 cbm)
¥550.0 for 1cbm (>5cbm)
NA500kgSingle side not more than 200cm, single item not more than 50kg (chargeable otherwise)SlowA lot of heavy or sensitive stuff like tables, chairs, cabinets
Sea shipping (by volume)MRC shipping$93 for 1cbm$9.30/0.1cbmDependsDependsSlowA lot of heavy or sensitive stuff like tables, chairs, cabinets
Don't botherLazadaDon't botherDon't botherDon't botherDon't botherDon't botherDon't bother

More tips and tricks

Because we wanted to keep this article shorter, we wrote a separate guide on Taobao tips and FAQs on shopping and shipping. Some of the tips are already hinted at above. But it’s useful to always ask whether you’re making your Taobao shopping or shipping as effective and efficient as possible.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Use normal sea shipping for large furniture and things you can afford to wait. Go for Taobao’s official air shipping for small and light items, or if you really need it fast. Use Oops/Peeka/Ezbuy Buy-for-Me services if your Chinese is D7-standard, but you’ll need to pay more. Don’t use Taobao global direct if you can.

What’s next?

Did you find our guide useful for your Taobao shopping? Let us know about your success in the comments below!

If you’ve encountered any problems, you can head over to our new guide on Taobao tips and FAQs on shopping and shipping.

We’ve also written guides on buying Taobao lights, buying Taobao taps, review on our Taobao cabinet, review on Taobao ceiling fans. But that’s not to say everything went well, here’s our rant about our experience with our shipper losing our stuff that we briefly alluded to above.

pewpewpew :

View Comments (43)

  • Is it possible to filter Positive and negative Tmall reviews like Taobao or do you have to read through every review page for Tmall? Cause I don't see 好评 and 差评 filter option on Tmall products.

    • Actually you can roughly gauge when you click on the key phrases, like 布料很好 and 穿好看 should give you a good proxy filter. But generally it's rare to see anything on Tmall with a lot of bad reviews.

  • Hi,
    Will it be better to go for air shipping or sea shipping for heavy and/or fragile items? Will sfinex check that items are correct and not defective before they ship to Singapore?

    • Heavy parcels you should go for sea shipping. Fragile item shipping depends on your luck, your parcels can be damaged during air and sea shipping. It sometimes helps to have fragile tags pasted on the boxes. It also depends on how conscientious your shipping company is in not throwing the stuff around, like luggages. We have shipped porcelain mugs, lights, and photo frames without any damage. It's almost unbelievable the luck we had for those shipments. On the other hand, we have gotten scratches on our chairs and some dented items. So the record is mixed.

      For Sfinex, they charge a small fee for checks on the items and taking photos of the physical condition of the items before they pack the items for shipping. You can consider that to have a peace of mind.

  • Seem that your information not so accurate about the size limitation about the 3rd parties forwarder. Eg for Sfinex, if the size is over the defined limit (70cm x 70 cm or one side 120 cm or single item is over 25kg) then the oversize or overweight fee is chargeable. Although I don't know what is the exact size Sfinex will refuse to ship. However, for the time being i only ship small item.

      • Still wrong about the size limitation. Eg I can send one item single size 130cm via air shipment but need to pay additional charge rmb150 oversize fee on top of the chargeable weight fee. Please read through the terms and conditions clearly.

        • Wow you're a detailed one! Have edited it for both boxes. Hope that didn't take your whole day haha.

          • Because now I am thinking to engage Sfinex. So just check it out clearly. I don't want to have surprise.

  • Hi there! As someone tryingg to figure out how to buy and ship from taobao, your blog has been a godsend! If possible, I would love to see a post on how much you spend on your home items (and shipping!). Btw for taobao seashipping, do you know when they would charge by volume and when they would charge by weight?

    • Thanks for the compliment! We thought about posting how much we spent, but there have been so many items that honestly it's too time consuming to note down 200 plus purchases.

      To your queries, usually shippers charge by whichever is higher. However, if they do use one of the weights as default (e.g. sea shipping typically is by cbm), they will tell you.

  • Hi, do you know the Singapore courier companies that handle the local delivery for Taobao’s official forwarders? I understand Roadbull is one of the companies that handle the official air freight by taobao. What about shipping by sea?

  • I've realised that they have stopped using 4PX for air shipping too. there's a playmat which I wished to buy; it's abut 180cm long and seems like I can only do sea shipping by Cai Niao or Lazada. Do you know if we are able to track for sea shipping and also how long does it take to arrive approximately? How does the GST payment work, as in we pay for GST when we shipped out or when item arrives in SG?

    • Unfortunately we don't have experience with Cai Niao or Lazada for sea shipping. There're some pretty bad reviews going on for both, so it's pretty much you being stuck in a bad place if you need to ship something so long. For third party shippers, GST is calculated paid upfront. It should probably be the same for Cai Niao and Lazada.

  • Hi Do you know if Cainiao sea shipping can ship liquid? Thinking of shipping some fountain pen ink cuz it is really cheap on Taobao! Any advice on shipping liquid item?😅

    • Sorry but we're not too sure! We've never used Cainiao before. Liquids are very tricky because they're very often subject to the shipper's fancy, and more often than not are rejected by the Chinese customs. Our advice is not to go for liquids.

  • In your blog, the Cainiao sea shipment by weight is not really correct. they can charge u by volumetric weight or dimension weight even for small item. It's really up to their discretion to charge u whichever methods. For dimensional weight charges, they use (LXBXH)/6000 to inspect each item that arrives in their warehouse. No weighing is done for this part as it's base on the above formula to get the weight. for example if your packaging volumetric weight is 1.5kg, & the dimensions measure 48cmX50cmX24cm=57600, divide by 6000 = 9.6kg, this weight will be charged instead.
    so If u think that buying multiple items from the same seller & pack into a big packaging is cheaper then u are wrong. u eventually will have to pay a lot more for dimensional weight calculation.

    • Thanks for the feedback! Have adjusted my recommendations. They do retain the discretion to either charge by volumetric or actual weight, whichever is higher, although the rates are lower than air shipping.

  • Hi hi, can I double confirm with you...that we should specify our Singapore address at 我的收货地址 in Sfinex account? Please help. I have been trying to ship my TaoBao items for days :( both sgshop & ezbuy don’t work!! Thanks so much!!

    • Yup the address in Sfinex is your home address. The address that they provide you, like their China warehouse address "广东省广州市白云区嘉禾街道106国道旺岭路段1号粤旺大厦C栋一楼8113档" is the address you key into Taobao. Hope that helps!

  • Thanks for the details on this page! I'm trying to figure out what is Cainiao's warehouse address, how do I get them to provide it to me? And where do I enter the warehouse address? I can't seem to find it :( do you have any idea?

    • Unfortunately I don't think we've any experience and we couldn't seem to find it online either. Based on our understanding Cainiao is the main logistics entity that subcontracts other logistics firms to handle the deliveries. So they probably have addresses everywhere and determines it on your behalf. If you do find it do let us know!