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Manuel

The Taobao shopping experience

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Manuel

I'm a self-confessed Taobao addict, and yet I hate the shopping experience. I would say I return about half of my Taobao purchases get returned. The one thing I never buy on Taobao is clothing. It's riddle with fakes and every garment I've bought was returned either due to poor fit or bad quality. Here's a list of reasons why Taobao sucks:

 

  • No feedback on returned items: This is possibly my biggest pet peeve and the only reason Taobao sellers continue to get away with murder. If you return an item you can't leave feedback! Some returns are not necessarily due to sub-standard quality, for example, a shirt that was the wrong size, but many others are. Negative feedback about a shitty product or a rude seller would be invaluable to future buyers, which instead must rely on the feedback given by sheepish buyers who were either lucky to get a good product or simply happy to settle for lower quality.
  • Search is broken: My second biggest complaint, searching for stuff on Taobao is the biggest piece of BS ever conceived. You are looking at an item, search for that item's title verbatim and it can't find it. Search results on mobile version don't match the desktop version. Searching for products that exist, even when searching within a given shop, are not found. I've reported this problem to Taobao three times since 2011, nothing has been done.
  • Sort is broken: After sorting by price, items that existed before the sort magically disappear. Sort by sales volume? The top item was purchased 605 times, but before the sort there were items that had been purchased hundreds of thousands of times... where did these go?
  • Advanced search is gone: Previously accessible via search1.taobao.com, this page no longer works. After reading through a few Chinese discussion forums, it seems they've ditched it.
  • Incomplete product descriptions: Pictures deliberately omit the ugly details, and often key product information is omitted.
  • Exaggerated product descriptions: Heavily processed images, often computer generated ones, that are vastly different from the real thing.
  • Bloated product descriptions: Buyers need to scroll through meters of unnecessary BS to get to the key product facts which should have been at the very top.
  • Outdated or incorrect product descriptions: Often product descriptions use outdated images, pictures of former revisions of the product, or images of a product that's similar to the product being delivered but not the same. The seller will then proceed to give buyers the usual BS that the differences are unimportant because "it doesn't affect function".
  • Image-based item descriptions: Rather than text-based which would be Ctrl+F searchable and therefore much quicker to scan through.
  • Product images and descriptions stolen from other sellers: This causes confusion among buyers, who cannot tell which one is the original seller.
  • Sellers who call themselves 'authorised': I recently came across three shops whose names implied they all were authorised NSK ball bearing retailers. After contacting NSK customer support, I was told that they don't have any authorised retailers on Taobao. When I asked the sellers one told me he didn't know what was going on, and the other two told me that thee  others were fake and they had already reported them to Taobao and about to get shut down.
  • Lazy sellers: Many sellers, especially those selling low-value items, treat you with indifference, provide very vague descriptions of the product, often made up of computer-generated graphics that poorly represent the real thing. This forces users to tediously enquiry about every little of the product on Ali IM. The seller then has to answer the same silly questions over and over rather than making the details available once in the item description e.g. a bicycle handlebar whose description doesn't state what material it's made of.
  • Deliberately incorrect sender city: The city from which the product is dispatched is shown at the top of the page, below the price. Often sellers will fill in a fake city to boost sales, for example Shanghai instead of Fujian. This translates to longer delivery times and higher shipping costs should the item need to be returned.
  • Damaged products delivered: Often times sellers will send you a damaged product (scratched, cracked, dented or otherwise not brand-new), and then try to convince you that you should accept it as the odd scratch doesn't affect function. Some times they will offer you a small amount of money in return for your acceptance of the product. Even if you explicitly ask the seller to ensure the item is in perfect condition before dispatching it, it doesn't guarantee the item will be in perfect condition, and you'll be told that "quality is a subjective thing". This is great if you don't mind dead pixels, scratches, dents, etc.
  • Getting seller to accept a return is often challenging: Especially low-volume sellers will give you a thousand reasons why you should not return the item before they agree, thus wasting sellers' time and energy.
  • Unwanted gifts: Recently I bought a mobile phone on Taobao, the phone was absolutely fine, but along with it came a pile of rubbishy gifts I didn't need (e.g. I already own a nice Xiaomi selfie stick, no need for another one—especially a crappy one). I asked the seller if it would be possible to send me just the phone, but no, that wouldn't be possible because the thing had already been pre-packaged.

 

Because of the above two reasons, the received product usually doesn't meet the buyer's expectations and sellers get away with murder. Unsurprisingly, delivery companies in China and manufacturers of ultra-low quality products thrive.

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lakesandrivers

Damn, and it is almost everywhere that Taobao is advertised as an eBay-equivalent; they even get mentioned on universities' websites, among others! When I first got started on eBay many years ago, I was apprehensive. But surprisingly, now I cannot remember one instance of bad shopping on eBay. Maybe early on I already decided to shop only from sellers with the Premium Seller badge, and only those products in Australia, and only those who deal in PayPal. 

 

From your post sounds like Taobao is caveat emptor all over again 😖 

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Manuel

EBay is, or was, mainly an auction platform that evolved into other modes e.g. 'buy it now', whereas Taobao is all 'buy it now' and can do auctions too but it's mostly b2c sales. One thing I miss about eBay is how easy it was to sell unwanted stuff quickly. Two weeks before I came to China in 2009 I put practically everything I owned up for sale on eBay and a week later it was all gone. On Taobao you can sell stuff too but the process is convoluted. There's a second hand selling platform, also part of Taobao, called Xian Yu (闲鱼) which I used a few years ago to sell a bunch of unneeded bike spares and it worked alright but it usually takes much longer to sell an item, because second-hand is not as popular here. Another thing I've noticed is that the Chinese undervalue used products, that is, unless you set a very low price, nobody will buy it. There's an expectation that "there must be something wrong with the second-hand item for the seller to want to sell it".

 

My previous post was all about the bad stuff, but Taobao has its share of virtues, too, when compared with eBay. For example, being able to communicate with the seller in real time, how easy it is to return items and how you can find virtually anything are by far Taobao's greatest strengths. s

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lakesandrivers
38 minutes ago, Manuel said:

communicate with the seller in real time, how easy it is to return items

 

Wait, but you described the sellers as lazy, deliberately incorrect sender city, damaged products, and challenging return? Yet you also bought an entire phone from Taobao. This reflects your confidence in the platform.

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Manuel
31 minutes ago, lakesandrivers said:

 

Wait, but you described the sellers as lazy, deliberately incorrect sender city, damaged products, and challenging return?

 

Yes, that's correct and contradictory. Of course not all sellers are all of those things. When I say I return about half my purchases, that's not an exaggeration. And I think that's completely normal, think about it, you walk into a store, something catches your eye, you look closer and then you don't like it. Money has not yet changed hands, so you don't need to return the item, and you don't need to explain to anyone why you don't want it. The problem with Taobao is that, for you to closely inspect the item, you must commit to buying it first, and assume the vortex of consequences and time-wasting that follows.

 

Returning items on Taobao is very easy once the seller agrees, in other words, the process itself is very streamlined. You can even have the courier turn up at your doorstep, at a time of your choosing, at the click of a button from within Taobao, but you first need to get the seller to agree  (they have to consciously click a button on their end). That's, essentially, the only part of the process that involves human intervention, the rest is predictable routine. I've encountered quite a few sellers who will quibble on and on and try every possible way to get you to retain the item. This situation is not uncommon when the transaction value is significant e.g. 700 RMB upwards. If the dispute can't be resolved amicably either party can call upon Taobao's mediators to sort things out. As of recent though, It appears Taobao has introduced a new 'service' whereby refunds are authorised automatically and immediately, without the seller's prior consent, for buyers who have a good "returns reputation", that is, if you have returned many items in the past and there have been no sellers complaints, statistically you are likely to continue on that trend and so the refund is authorised. I believe this is a service sellers sign up for though, and based on my experience it's usually the high-sales-low-price sellers that do, because quibbling over a few kuai isn't worth their time if they are selling thousands every day.

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Manuel

Taobao is also a powerful market research tool, and a great language acquisition tool.

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vellocet
1 hour ago, lakesandrivers said:

Wait, but you described the sellers as lazy, deliberately incorrect sender city, damaged products, and challenging return? Yet you also bought an entire phone from Taobao. This reflects your confidence in the platform.

For people like OP, shopping has nothing to do with the products.  It is a recreation in and of itself.  The curiosity of shopping, the delicious anticipation while waiting for delivery, the joy of the knock at the door when the courier brings the gift-wrapped package, the thrill of grabbing the knife to slit the tape and feast on the delights within.  Actually getting the product is a let-down.  It means the experience is over.  Only thing left to do is repeat the whole process to once again get those wonderful brain chemicals flowing.

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lakesandrivers

You folks are serious, aren't you? 👻

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tooironic

The problems the OP outlines in detail are spot-on, and yet, I can't say there is anything remotely as useful as Taobao in my home country. So I'm not really bothered too much.

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Manuel

I don't buy tings on Taobao for sake of the experience, in fact I only buy stuff I genuinely need as I don't like owning a lot of things that drag me down when I move home. The knock on the door (usually a text message, actually) elicits mostly fear. The problem of low quality is pandemic. If I could change one thing about Taobao it would be to allow feedback on returned items. Then all of the other problems would fix themselves, except the crappy search engine.

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Manuel
9 minutes ago, tooironic said:

I can't say there is anything remotely as useful as Taobao in my home country. So I'm not really bothered too much.

 

That's what I meant: it's a love-hate thing. It's very good but there are a few very annoying problems that users complain about and Jack Ma does nothing about. Of course it's not just me saying this, many Chinese users have expressed similar complaints on Zhihu and other discussion websites. A common complaint is that shopping on Taobao wastes a lot of time, but most people don't know why it is. I believe it's a combination of the above reasons and the fear of the all-too-familiar disappointment which cause buyers to carefully ponder their purchases. A typical situations occurs when different sellers provide conflicting information on the same product.

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Manuel

Yesterday I bought a few component storage drawers, the ones for storing nuts and bolts neatly. The product was available in different colors, so I  asked if there were differences between the 'white and the blue variants. The seller told me the blue variant was stronger, but later he also told me both were made of high-impact polystyrene, and that the shape was identical. Then I had to ask for clarification, and what he meant was the transparent, not the white, variant was weaker because it was made of regular polystyrene (CD jewel case kinda stuff). In Chinese they have an expression which is 挤牙膏 (literally 'to squeeze toothpaste') which more or less means to extract information or a confession with a lot of hard work. Some sellers are awesome, others you can tell right away don't give a cr*p right from the product description.

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XiaoXi

OMG this post really resonates with me since I live in China and thus have to use pretty much the only online vendor for anything in China. You may find taobao pretty insane but for it to win out all the competition in a country like China, you know it would have to be downright weird lol.

14 hours ago, Manuel said:

Search is broken:

Yes...I can't honestly think what they were thinking when they made this. It's like the opposite of google or something.

 

14 hours ago, Manuel said:

Getting seller to accept a return is often challenging

Yes x 1000. It's amazing when you report a problem the ridiculous reasons they come up with which must obviously work with the Chinese but didn't make any sense to me. Like once I bought a mouse, black, completely plain with no design on it. But when it arrived it was pink with a 'Hello Kitty' logo on it! For a guy as you can imagine that's not ideal. But when complaining I was told by the seller that "that's just how they come from the factory, we have no control over that"...yes might want to add that into your description instead of stating clearly it was a plain black mouse with added picture. The mouse was something like ¥30 and he tried to offer like ¥3 or ¥5 off for such a major problem.

 

Another classic was clothing I bought brand new but when it arrived it had a tear at the back. When I complained I was told to go and find a place to get it cheaply repaired...or to just grab a needle and thread...you can't make this stuff up...at least not in China anyway.

 

Another classic was a product, I forget what it was but it was damaged in transit. When confronting the seller about it he said he has no responsibility for the product once it has been despatched. So when does he have responsibility for it then - no doubt while it's still in his hand?

 

Interesting because all this stuff is on my gf's taobao account so it's not like they know there is a foreigner involved and all discussions take place in Chinese.

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Manuel

Disclosing your nationality is never a good idea when negotiating product return terms with an unwilling seller—they will use the  "Chinese people wouldn't mind" or "things work differently in China" argument.

 

The other thing is when you buy a lot of something, e.g. you buy 30 t-shirts and one has a hole. Some may say it's a coincidence, but I don't think so. If you buy just one t-shirt and it has a big hole in it, you would probably be upset and return it, but if you buy loads of t-shirts and one or two have a hole you are more likely to believe it's unintentional. Sellers often use large-volume buys to shift products they would otherwise be unable to get rid of.

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ChTTay

I love Taobao but you just need to be careful what you decide to buy from it. Taobao had and continues to have a reputation for fake stuff whereas JD is considered more of a safe option. If prices are too good to be true, then that’s right, they are too good because they’re fake. Electronics, clothing/shoes, cosmetics are the big markets for fake stuff. 

 

I would say though that Tmall is full of official stores for big brands. Buying clothes from these stores has never been an issue for me and saves me having to go into the city. I’ve used Hollister, Gap, Eastpack, Xiaomi. 

 

Taobao has so much random stuff you can’t find anywhere else. I needed a specific size of cork to use for an experiment at school. I asked the seller to check, they told me the size, shipped me a bunch. I need a replacement clip for a bag and found them on there. I got badges with my friends face on them for his stag party. 

 

Apart from that non-branded or Chinese branded stuff on there is fine. I got a small protective case to put electronic stuff I always take to work. It was the perfect fit for a hard drive, Mac charger, USB-C converter and a couple of USBs. Cheap too. 

 

I also use taobao to buy cooking things to make Thai or Indian food. Once you find a good seller just stick with them. 

 

So I really think you just need to be aware of what Taobao is like and be cautious when making large purchases.  

 

Taobao gets 10/10 from me! 

 

A few things;

 

Of course the “authorised seller” stuff is fake! Who gets fooled by that? 

 

Complaining about free free stuff is weird. Just give it away if you don’t want it. 

 

If you have that many  issues with Taobao stores, it seems like you should just stop using Taobao. 

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Baby Charlie

I love taobao! I found it very easy to use and buy a lot of stuff from them. I do not expect Chanel quality and I realize that most of the stuff is fake but that is true all over the world. My biggest problem and pet peeve is that sellers cannot be bothered to ship the item:( I have that happen about a third of my purchases, they have always been good about refunding my money. I also have a few select vendors that I use regularly for pet stuff and American food. So far, I would rate them an 85 out of a 100. I do not buy clothes as I subscribe to the Mark Zuckerberg style of fashion. I also use Amazon.China to buy Italian coffee and filters! I like the ease of internet shopping as I do not have to schlep it home in a taxi!! Happy shopping!

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DavyJonesLocker

I almost never use taobao now, for the reasons you mention Only ever use JD or Tmall. I sick to JD own stores if possible. Never had anything fake yet. 京东超市 is excellent.

I bought a keyboard this week and after busting opening the packet and realising I bought the wrong connection, I returned it no issues. Definitely wasn't in a resaleable condition. Was surprised they gave me a refund. Would have understood if they refused it.

 

I dislike shopping anyway so quality of service and good are important to me. Chasing lowest price invites problems.  

 

Edit: as regards fakes, I think people can be too niave at times. I have fallen into this trap too! If you're buying a western product at a much lower cost than readily available in your own country, or a lot cheaper  the larger sellers on JD, it's bound to be fake. 

Also one shouldn't confused  a "western product that is specifically made for the chinese market" with a "genuine product", both made by the same company. Both can be sold as imports.

 

Whisky is a good example. Scottish distilleries make whiskey for European markets but will also make a sub standard product ( by Western standards)  for the chinese market. Its still technically an import. Alternately it can be made under license by a Chinese company where **some** raw ingredients are just shipped. 

Peeling off the label to reveal the original English label underneath is the trick, or if somehow the English doesnt read right. Jim Beam white is faked by the truck load here. 

 

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XiaoXi
6 hours ago, Manuel said:

Disclosing your nationality is never a good idea when negotiating product return terms with an unwilling seller—they will use the  "Chinese people wouldn't mind" or "things work differently in China" argument.

Yes so since it was my gf's account they didn't know but still they try to explain away a faulty product because they think you are Chinese and you won't mind. I think either way it doesn't work. If you're Chinese they try any random crazy explanations, but if you're a foreigner then like you say they act like you're an outsider and say the kind of things you highlighted.

 

Also while we're at it, what is it about rust in China? Haven't they ever heard of stainless steel.

We even bought a tin opener that was about ¥20 which is about the same as it would be in the west and it was one of the more popular results on taobao with everybody selling the same model. But after a couple of months use, the blade has gone rusty. I think the reason so many items that should be stainless steel are not because rust never comes really quickly so there's no way you can return it on taobao since it's already been a few months before the rust develops.

 

5 hours ago, Baby Charlie said:

I do not expect Chanel quality and I realize that most of the stuff is fake but that is true all over the world.

Most of the stuff is fake all over the world....ok thanks for that...

 

5 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Edit: as regards fakes, I think people can be too niave at times. I have fallen into this trap too! If you're buying a western product at a much lower cost than readily available in your own country, or a lot cheaper  the larger sellers on JD, it's bound to be fake. 

Also one shouldn't confused  a "western product that is specifically made for the chinese market" with a "genuine product", both made by the same company. Both can be sold as imports.

I think what you get even more in China that is more problematic is stuff that is cheaper but awful quality. There are so many products that cost about a third the price but only last a few months to a year. The Chinese mentality would be "well what do you expect for such a cheap price?" They don't mind that it's broken after a few months because it didn't cost a lot. But in reality if you tried to give someone something that is broken they wouldn't accept it even for free so these products aren't really even worth ¥0.

 

5 hours ago, ChTTay said:

Of course the “authorised seller” stuff is fake! Who gets fooled by that? 

I think it's more that Taobao should be dealing with these and getting them all removed.

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ChTTay

It’s China! Enjoy it while it lasts! 🤪

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XiaoXi
16 hours ago, ChTTay said:

It’s China! Enjoy it while it lasts! 🤪

Why what's happening to China?

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