Ah, Taobao, the online shopping platform that has lured plenty of Alices down its rabbit hole. If you’re reading this, the odds are good you too have spent plenty of time scrolling through their never-ending catalogue and have bought something off the app before.
While 99% of your Taobao hauls will arrive at your doorstep in picture-perfect condition, there are the occasional instances where your buys are not as lucky. While it’s mostly due to the fault of errant sellers and erroneous shipping accidents, it can still be a headache to go through. Here, 5 fans of Taobao share some of their worst buys on the platform and share some tips on how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you too.
Sofa came smaller than expected with mismatched legs
What she ordered on the left. What arrived on the right.
Image credit: Fiona Loh
Fiona is a Taobao shopaholic who turned to the online shopping platform when the time came to furnish her new apartment. “I’m somewhat a seasoned user on Taobao so I thought it was time I attempted to order a bigger item,” she said. She then found a relatively-cheap sofa that would cost her less than $100 including shipping by sea freight. “It was a big item and it was cheaper to ship it that way.”
A month later, Fiona’s sofa arrived in a box that looked suspiciously small. “It was in a box that I could carry by myself,” she realised in hindsight. “Should’ve known then!” Nevertheless, she held out hope that it would look great after she put it together.
Lo and behold, the sofa was delivered with legs that weren’t even of the right size. “They were lopsided and the couch itself looked more like a toddler’s mattress,” Fiona said. Through some visual agar-ation, she deduced that when assembled, the couch might not hold her weight, let alone another party despite being advertised as a 2-seater sofa.
To make the most out of this unfortunate situation, Fiona decided to use the cushion as a tatami instead. “I thought about selling it on Carousell, but my friends told me to list it as a children’s sofa or dog bed otherwise it would never get sold,” she added. There’s some truth to her friends’ advice – who would want to buy a sofa like that?
But this hasn’t deterred Fiona from Taobao, as she chalks it up as a one-off incident. “I’ll just be more discerning and probably order bigger items from a reputable physical store where I can see and touch it,” she said.
Shattered mirror was only “protected” with 1 layer of bubble wrap
Image credit: White Trousseau
If a mirror breaks in transit, does anyone really get the 7-years-of-bad-luck curse? The folks over at local fashion store White Trousseau almost had a brush with this superstition when one mirror they ordered from Taobao arrived in a hundred different pieces. It was made worse when they found out it wasn’t even packed properly.
“The mirror came in a crate but was poorly wrapped with only one layer of bubble wrap,” they explained to us over email. They immediately brought it up to Taobao’s customer service who replied instantly and the store also offered to send a replacement mirror.
After much deliberation, they decided to not risk receiving another broken mirror so they opted for a refund instead. As luck would have it, the store was also very understanding and accepted their refund request swiftly.
Only 1 out of 2 cabinets came & there were missing screws
Sometimes a situation is just so hilarious that you have no choice but to laugh. Shu Hui made an order for 2 cabinets and realised something was wrong when only one package arrived at her freight forwarder. After some back and forth with the seller on the Taobao app, her concerns were alleviated when they assured her that they’d check in with the logistics provider.
The side of the cabinet came with chips on its surface.
Image credit: Shu Hui
And of course, that didn’t happen. 2 weeks after their last conversation, Shu Hui opened the door to see only one package at her feet. Not only was one cabinet missing, the one that arrived had cracks and chipped corners. There were also missing screws and accessories!
While this was an open-and-shut case of a refund, Shu Hui requested for them to send the missing screws over in a bid to salvage what she could. Except she had to pay for the shipping of the missing screws. Granted, it was only $8, but it just rubbed salt into the wound of receiving broken and missing items.
The seller requested for a “warehouse entry fee”
Included the rough translations for those who are kaypoh.
Image credit: Noreenemail@example.com
For those not in the know, your bulkier purchases on Taobao will be shipped to your home by way of Taobao’s in-house shipping service Cainiao. Most of the time it’ll be loaded onto a container and the cost is paid upfront.
If you’re planning to buy something like a dining table or a couch off Taobao in the future, alarms should start going off if any seller asks you to pay an additional “warehouse entry fee.”
That’s exactly what happened to homeowner Noreen who had a seller ask her to pay a fee of 100 Yuan (~S$20). Sensing something was not right, she immediately started questioning their request and even checked with her fellow Taobao aficionados to see if they’d ever encountered similar situations.
After double-checking with Taobao’s customer service, Noreen was confident that there was no “进仓费” fee. Taobao also advised her to cancel the order and get a refund if the seller kept insisting on this.
Even so, the seller was persistent and did not stop requesting the additional payments; they even sent screenshots from the purported deliveryman at the warehouse asking for the fee.
“It was relatively frustrating as the seller’s responses were slow and our items were not moving towards the warehouse,” Noreen told us virtually. “We were getting worried and weren’t sure if we should quickly cancel our order before it was too late.”
Alas, a couple of days later, their items reached the warehouse safe and sound. Coincidentally, the seller had also stopped asking for further payments.
Low-quality purchases like shaky chairs and uneven colours
Image credit: Charlene/@seventhfloorflat
Charlene is a seasoned Taobao shopper who knows all the tricks – reading reviews and making sure the prices are not too good to be true. But she still couldn’t escape from the occasional catfishing.
Most recently, a Taobao haul that arrived at her home had some products that didn’t seem right. “The colour of the artworks had a purplish undertone that clashed with the cooler colour tones in our house,” she explained.
Other items like dining chairs had uneven legs which meant shaky meals in the dining room. Despite these small inconsistencies, the products were still mostly usable.
Image credit: Charlene/@seventhfloorflat
The only item she bought that left a bad impression was a floor mat that came creased and discoloured. The edges of the mat curled up, creases from the folds couldn’t be flattened, and the blacks were printed with a purple undertone.
Bonus: Coasters came as string for buyer to DIY
Image credit: Fiona Loh
Another cautionary tale for Taobao shoppers is to always read the description of the item you’re buying. Fiona spotted these whimsical rope coasters and decided to get them, only to discover that they had a DIY element where she had to hand-weave the patterns herself.
How to make the most out of Taobao
These stories make up a minuscule fraction of the hundred of thousands of Taobao orders placed daily, and the chances of your items coming in these conditions are slim to none. Still, you can take some precautions to ensure that nothing like this happens to you.
Read the reviews
It doesn’t have to be said that reviews are one of the most important aspects of online shopping, and you should definitely read the ones made on Taobao. Better yet, reviews with pictures attached of the product only add to its credibility.
“This way you can verify for yourself whether the item is exactly what you want,” Charlene said. “No review, no purchase.”
P.S. You can look at the symbols instead to see how many positive reviews there are from successful transactions.
Get a Chinese-speaking friend to help you
I used to be someone who wasn’t well-versed in Chinese, but instead of giving up and ignoring Taobao completely, I asked my friends who were fluent in Mandarin to help me translate the more cheem terminology.
Their expertise will come in handy especially when you have to converse with the sellers like how Shu Hui and Noreen had to do.
Use the Google Translate app to translate screenshots
For less complex things like figuring out what the labels are saying on the Taobao app, Google Translate is a lifesaving tool. You can take a screenshot of what you see on Taobao and upload it onto Google Translate’s mobile app and it’ll translate the entire page for you.
If it’s too cheap to be true, it probably is
While most of us go to Taobao for its more affordable prices, sometimes that 5 Yuan (~S$1) shirt might be too good to be true. Sure, you might think that it’s just pocket change for something that might be good. But do you really need it, or are you just itching to add things to your cart?
Taobao horror stories and how to avoid future misses and incidents
Despite these “horror stories”, all of the Taobao shoppers who shared their experiences mentioned that they will continue shopping there. “We’ve had way more success with all our other purchases and we still have another bunch of stuff on the way from Taobao even though we had a couple of fails,” Charlene said. “Adding on, we think that most of our failures are attributed to the clash in aesthetics, and less of poor quality!”
Fiona is in the same boat, except that she’ll be a little more discerning and would prefer to order big ticket items like sofas from a reputable physical store in the future. This is so she can see and feel the materials before purchasing.
Hopefully, these stories don’t deter you from Taobao – we know and agree that it is a great place to get tons of aesthetically pleasing things at a more reasonable price. As long as you do your due diligence to ensure you’re not being taken for a ride by greedy sellers, your home will be beautiful in no time. Just be patient and wait for the shipping to happen.
Read other related articles:
- Feng shui approved flat that uses Taobao for everything
- How to save money on renovation
- Stylish bedside tables
Cover image adapted from: Fiona Loh