If you’re looking to cut costs on home decor and furnishings, buying online is a sure way to do so. Many homeowners have turned to Taobao, a highly popular Chinese e-commerce site that has everything to meet your home needs – from bookshelves to bed frames to light fixtures (and lots more!).

However, with its large number of sellers all competing for the best prices, shopping for your home online can lead to unwanted trouble. Read this essential shopping guide with tips from experts and homeowners to learn how to reduce risk and get the best value for your home.

If you’re buying… Bulky Items


Your Essential Guide To Shopping On Taobao
When homeowners Aaron and Angela purchased this wood and metal bookcase from Taobao, they requested it to be flat-packed.

After saving hundreds of dollars on chairs, TV consoles, and even kitchen sinks on Taobao, the last thing you want is to be overcharged for your shipping, which can come up to a pretty sum. If you opt for cargo shipping, there are three ways forwarding companies charge shoppers: by the actual weight of the item, volumetric weight of the packaged item, and per cubic metre (or, CBM) of the packaged item. Karen Wong, co-founder of local forwarder Etrove, says it is more economical for bulkier products to be charged by CBM.

“The wooden furniture sold on Taobao tends to be heavy, due to the chipboard material used. However, an item weighing 80 kg might command only 0.24 cbm of space; if you are charged by weight, your shipping fee might come up to be over $100 – but if you are charged by CBM, it will be only about $30,” she says. However, she adds that CBM calculations only apply to goods of minimum 1 cbm, which means your package must measure at least 1 m x 1 m x 1m.

Homeowners Aaron and Angela Koh, who say Taobao was their go-to site when they were shopping for home furnishings for their Punggol flat, advise: “To save even further on shipping, ask individual sellers to flat-pack the items in a disassembled form, or in the least bulky manner.

If you’re buying… Branded Goods


Your Essential Guide To Shopping On Taobao (2)Spotted a luxury sofa or a sleek Grohe showerhead for an amazingly low price? Check its authenticity first. See if it’s from an authorised distributor, and make a request for documents to determine the authenticity of the product, and reputation of the company. Next, thoroughly check the reviews as well as credibility ratings.

“Unfortunately, some sellers offer rebates to shoppers in exchange for good ratings – despite poor service and product quality. The trick is to sieve through reviews and follow-up comments, to see if shoppers have posted more truthful evaluations after the transaction was completed,” says Peter Tee, an avid Taobao shopper and the administrator of a Taobao Facebook group.

Merchants under the Tmall platform are also known to be more credible than regular Taobao sellers. This is because they are required to have a physical shop, and are usually registered companies.

Alternatively, try Ji You Jia. “Those looking for branded home-furnishing products may try searching on Ji You Jia, a Taobao-owned site which features shops that have been stringently checked for reliability, quality and service,” recommends Karen.

An indicator of fake goods is unreasonably low prices. As prices of branded items tend to be controlled, savings can go no lower than 25 to 40 per cent. If a shopper comes across an item offering savings of over 70 per cent, it is most definitely a knock-off, says Karen.

If you’re buying… Fragile Items


Seeing scratches, chips or cracks on an item you’ve been waiting weeks for is frustrating, but you can take precautionary steps to prevent damage.

Your Essential Guide To Shopping On Taobao 2
Aaron and Angela purchased these pendant lamps, which were made out of recycled glass bottles, from Taobao.

First, let the seller know that the item will be shipped overseas, and therefore needs to be reinforced with bubble wrap and wooden crates, especially if it’s a fragile object. These will cushion any rough-handling.

“As a shopping agent, we advise our customers to at least request wooden crates for fragile items. We also do a basic inspection for our customers, once the item reaches our overseas warehouse,” says Kaleryn Ong from Ezbuy (formerly known as 65 Daigou), a local forwarder that handles overseas shopping and shipping for Taobao buyers.

Homeowner William Toh, who bought several lighting fixtures through the then 65Daigou, also purchased insurance from the company. “It was inexpensive, and covers damages. Our items came in good condition,” he shares.

Ezbuy charges 3 per cent of the total cost (including domestic shipping fees) for product insurance, which covers the full amount of the item’s retail value, the international shipping fee, as well as agent fees. Shoppers may add insurance upon checkout.

Despite these, one should still look out for signs of mishandling, which include footprints, watermarks, and ripped carton boxes. These suggest that items may have been stepped on, left outside without shelter, or tossed around, says Karen.

If you’re buying… Electrical Appliances


Your Essential Guide To Shopping On Taobao 3
The items on Taobao may be cheap, but they are not lacking in style. These statement lamps are proof of that.

Coffee machines, Irobot vacuum cleaners, and rice cookers are some of the most commonly bought electrical appliances from Taobao. As these appliances do not go through testing in Singapore, and carry our authorised safety marks, look for items with China’s domestic safety marks, such as the China Compulsory Certificate mark (CCC or 3C mark) and China Certification Centre for Electromagnetic Compatibility mark (CEMC).

Karen lists Midea, Jo Young and Haier as reputable brands that sell electrical goods. Although China and Singapore appliances use the same amount of voltage (220 to 230V), the appliances do not use the same electrical plug. You’ll have to get adaptor plugs, which you can find easily in hardware stores. And as with other electrical devices, it is advised not to overcharge electrical items.

For more home tips, read Decor Trend: How To Brighten Up Your Home With Pastels10 Easy Ways To Add Colour To Your Home and 5 Ways To Decorate A Boring Wall In Your Home.

Text: Eliza Hamizah & Yrozz Sison / Home & Decor
Photos: SPH Magazines, Pixabay