You need new furniture (don’t ask, you just do), it’s got to look awesome, and it can’t be IKEA because everyone’s already got the same one. To the local furniture store it is then. There’s something nice but you want to think it over. That very night, you find the same thing over on Taobao. For much less. Much, much less. Your best buddy “helpfully” quotes, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” The question is, is it really?
There are some things to be said about shopping online: since the pandemic, far more are open to it than ever. That said, it’s one thing to have milk or a PS5 delivered to your doorstep. It's a whole other thing when it comes to big ticket purchases like a honking huge bed frame. Will it look like what’s shown? Is it a scam? Can it be returned? How do you return it? Here are some tips on what to look out for when shopping on Taobao (or online anywhere).
Quality products, great prices?
Most stuff on Taobao is dirt cheap. However, that doesn’t always mean you’re compromising on quality. In China’s market competition is fierce; either sell with high margins or sell more. Without branding, most opt for the latter: low margins, high volume sales. That crazy cheap thing you got on Taobao? Could be the real deal; great quality at great prices.
Online vs real life
The primary concern Taobao purchases is, am I getting what I’m paying for? Maybe. Maybe not. There is a whole lot that can go wrong: colour of the product shot is off, your screen’s colour grading, you were wearing sunglasses while shopping, product measurements off by a centimetre, or an outright dishonest trader. There’s no fool proof way around it, but there are a few things you could do to mitigate it.
Check the ratings
Taobao’s most basic feature to combat fraud is its seller ratings. Spanning across three rating levels, Star, Diamond, and Crown (low to high), it helps buyers find reliable sellers. These are based on customer feedback so you can be somewhat confident that those who rate well would be honest merchants. The rating system isn’t be end-all be-all; some new traders just need more time to build a reputation. However, it’s a pretty good place to start if anxiety attacks aren’t your cup of tea.
Read the feedback
Customer feedback should be your next stop. These provide a far more practical look at what you’re getting yourself into. Most feedback would give you a decent idea about service quality and product accuracy.
Be mindful that feedback is subject to manipulation; unscrupulous sellers might create fake accounts to give themselves a better rating. A mix of good, neutral, and bad reviews is the hallmark of an honest trader.
Lost or damaged goods
Products going missing or getting damaged in transit is the reality of online shopping. It’s not like going to the store, picking something up, and bringing it home in your car. That furniture you bought is going on an epic Fellowship-of-the-Ring journey from China to your doorstep: long, arduous, and full of danger.
So what’s more annoying than missing or damaged goods? Convincing the seller that they have gone missing or got damaged. Can’t get that refund or exchange without it. To be fair, sellers get their fair share of scammers too. Thanks to this, everyone’s got to do their due diligence to provide proof.
Shop as you would anywhere else
If you think about it, shopping online on Taobao isn’t all that different from buying from your local store. In most cases, transactions go smoothly. And if they don’t, there’s the hassle of getting it returned, refunded, or even exchanged. It’s just slightly slower because, you know, it’s a few thousand kilometres farther away than the local store.