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Shopping on China’s Taobao: “Looking for What Baby?”

Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, recently announced that Taobao.com will be available in English (among other languages) in the upcoming international version of its website.

Taobao—China’s equivalant to Ebay, only much larger—is huge throughout East Asia, and is clearly looking to expand even more. Its customer base is massive, and consists not only of individuals selling merchandise but also wholesalers and major brand name companies.

taobao

This announcement is most welcome news to non-Chinese speakers who have used online translation tools for the main Taobao website only to be presented with such prompts as “Looking for what baby?” when seeking only to complete a product search.

The other option has been to bother Chinese-speaking friends to search and finalize purchases for you. If you don’t have any friends (Chinese-speaking or otherwise) who can help, well then there are also English-language “field guides.” It should be noted that these are not affiliated with Taobao.com. And, with few exceptions, they are limited to only to navigating the website, avoiding almost completely (and inexplicably) the ability to complete a transaction.

There is also an English-language version of wholesale website Aliexpress as well as numerous third-party websites where agents offer their services in English to help you shop.

However, despite having some English-language options for shopping on Taobao, non-Chinese speakers are still missing out on a great deal. Most probably aren’t comfortable having an agent conduct purchases on their behalf, especially with stories of seller fraud over the past few years, although efforts have been made to crack down on these scams. If one did choose to use an agent, though, payment to them is required as well as a 10% commission. Also important is to use extra care when it comes to shipping options, as people tend to use EMS as the default method, thereby jacking up the total price considerably. What’s more, while you can use PayPal to pay the agent’s 10% commission, you cannot use it to pay for the item itself. Extremely practical, that is.

If using a field guide to get started on Taobao, the process of translating the registration steps and awaiting email confirmation can be cumbersome, and still there is no guarantee that it will work successfully. As for Aliexpress, sure, it is certainly nothing to sneeze at but it only allows one access to a small percentage of the immense volume and variety of items for sale on the main Taobao website.

What the new international website would allow (finally) are consumer-oriented products and transactions in the language of your choice, ideally even with product descriptions. It would also need pages devoted to account registration and payment procedures on Alipay (China’s equivalent to PayPal). This is especially important if you are unable to link your debit card directly to the payment options page and prefer to use Alipay. After all, browsing and selecting aren’t much good if you can’t complete a transaction.

So, the next time Taobao has you scratching your head with the message, “The baby sold for a price, namely, the price of baby is fixed,” do not despair… with any luck this will soon be a thing of the past once the new global Taobao website is up and running.

H/T: Tech in Asia