Good news for online shopaholics – Taobao had set up its Southeast Asia hub in Singapore.
For the uninitiated, Taobao (淘宝) is the Chinese equivalent to shopping sites like Amazon, Qoo10 or Rakuten.
Prior to the launch of its Southeast Asia office, many in Singapore were unable to buy directly on Taobao as it required customers to have China bank accounts. In addition, most Taobao sellers do not ship overseas. Going through third-party daigou agents to buy on their behalf was the only way Singapore buyers could shop on Taobao, until now.
With the launch of International Parcel Forwarding Service (IPFS) in Singapore – and Malaysia too! – customers can now buy from Taobao and have their orders shipped to Singapore via an international forwarding agent (国际转运商). A forwarding agent acts as a consolidating point that provides storage (free for up to 20 days) for customers’ orders in its warehouse in China. After the customer selects the orders for consolidation, the agent will calculate the applicable forwarding charges based on the weight of the consolidated package. It will then arrange for the package to be shipped from its warehouse in China to the Singapore address as specified by the customer.
It was an easy and fuss-free process registering for a Taobao account. After logging in to sea.taobao.com, I followed the guide on how to activate the IPFS by first setting up the overseas shipping address (i.e. the Singapore address for the parcel to be shipped to). I was then prompted to select a forwarding agent. Once this was done, I was all set to start shopping on Taobao.
When a user registers for a Taobao account, an Alipay (支付宝) account will automatically be created to facilitate payment. Alipay is an online payment service owned by Taobao, and China’s answer to PayPal. Alipay now allows the linking of international credit cards like VISA and Mastercard for payment – again, just like PayPal. It also accepts payment via the Alipay Purchase Card, which is available for purchase at AXS kiosks.
Here are some useful tips for shopping on Taobao:
- Although the Taobao Southeast Asia site is in English, the Taobao item pages are still all in Chinese, so you will need to be able to understand Chinese to navigate the Taobao site.
- Keep the default option for 物流运费 (delivery fee) on the item page. It is usually set to 全国 (nationwide). DO NOT select delivery to 海外 (overseas), since you have already appointed a forwarding agent as your local contact point to receive the goods in China. Selecting the overseas option means you want the sellers in China to ship directly to you in Singapore, and this will incur high shipping costs. Moreover, as previously mentioned, most Taobao sellers do not ship directly to overseas addresses.
- You can set up the option to receive SMS notifications when your orders have arrived at the warehouse in China. When all your orders are ready for consolidation and shipping to Singapore, navigate to 已买到的宝贝 > 国际转运 (My items > International forwarding) to choose the items that you want to 合并 (combine) into a single consolidated package. From my own experience, you are currently allowed to combine up to twenty orders into a single package.
- Unlike the daigou agents, the international forwarding agents currently do not seem to provide the option to ship by sea, which means you may still incur high shipping costs if you buy bulky items and have them shipped (by air) by the forwarding agents. I suggest that you check with the forwarding agents before putting in orders for bulky items.
- Aliwangwang is the recommended communication platform between the buyers and sellers (and forwarding agents). The client interface is similar to MSN Messenger and easy to use. If you want to know more about an item, such as its weight and availability, you can chat or leave a message with the seller on Aliwangwang.
- The forwarding agent acts as a consolidating point to receive, combine and ship orders to the customers. However, handling returns and refunds for unsatisfactory, restricted or wrong orders may be tricky, which is typical for overseas online shopping. You can check out the FAQs, Prohibited Items list and Buyer Protection pages for more details. And no, you can’t buy chewing gum on Taobao, it is among the list of items that are prohibited to ship to Singapore.
This is by no means intended to be a detailed tutorial on shopping on Taobao, but I hope this can clear up some doubts about using the IPFS forwarding agent to ship Taobao orders to Singapore. If you have any other queries, or wish to receive the latest updates and promotions, you can now follow Taobao Southeast Asia on their Facebook page.
(Updated 2016.07.20: I am closing the comments on this post as it is nearly three years old and since then, there have been many changes on Taobao that the information in this post may no longer be relevant. For queries on Taobao related matters, you may like to contact Taobao SEA directly at helpline 800 188 6018 (Singapore number) or their Facebook page. Thank you!)