If you work in a Chinese office, you are almost certainly an expert(i.e. waste hours of time) on Taobao, the popular shopping site that’s been heralded in the foreign press as “China’s eBay.” But this nickname is actually selling the site short. Taobao is China’s largest online marketplace by a considerable margin, and while the site doesn’t stock anything that you can think of―we can think of some pretty far-out things―Taobao’s offerings run the gamut from the usual clothes and foodstuffs to more arcane items like pet monkeys and written-to-order university dissertations. In 2010, Taobao’s total turnover amounted to RMB400 billion (over US$60 billion), and it would be fair to say that Taobao has become China’s go-to internet shop.
But shopping on Taobao isn’t quite as simple as asking “How much?”
Create an Account
Click “Register for free”on the home page. After filling in and confirming your account information, enter the verification code sent by the system to complete registration.
Select Online Bank
Set the online bank card you want to use to pay for your purchase by choosing a Chinese domestic bank and selecting your card type(credit or debit).
Search Shops or‘Treasures’
You can either type the name of specific goods or shops you are looking for or some general categories in the search box.
Chat with shopkeepers via a chatting tool called Ali Wangwang(阿里旺旺) about availability, price(if you want to bargain), size, color, shipping fee or estimated delivery time.
Add to Cart
When everything is set, select the “treasure”and click “Add to cart”before you check out. You can also click “Buy immediately” to submit your order directly.
Complete the Payment
The system will automatically transfer you to a Zhifubao payment page (a Chinese service similar to PayPal) if you have set it as a payment method so you can complete the purchase.
and promptly exchanging money for goods and services. Taobao has enfranchised a generation of internet shopkeepers, a group that has come together to form its own “Taobao culture.” Like all subcultures, this one has its own distinct patois. In order to make a successful transaction, this lingo doesn’t necessarily have to be mastered, but it can serve to make the whole experience a lot smoother. Despite it all taking place in the ethereal world of the internet, the same social dynamics exist on Taobao as in most sectors of the service industry. Just like establishing a rapport with your waiter in a restaurant reduces the risk of errant spittle finding its way into your soup, being friendly to a Taobao seller helps ensure that your order will be well-packaged and dealt with promptly.
Before we proceed, a warning: diabetics beware. Communication on Taobao is very saccharine―everyone calls each other “dear” and all items are “treasures.” If bunny rabbits and anthropomorphized, smiling suns make your blood boil, Taobao may not be for you.
bASIC TAObAO VOCAbuLARy:
掌柜 (zh2nggu#) - shopkeeper Taobao sellers are referred to as zhanggui, meaning “shopkeeper.” The all-purpose laoban (老板, boss) is also used.
拍 (p`i) - bid/buy
Nowadays, most transactions are not auctions but straight, fixed-price purchases. Back when Taobao had a larger number of auctions, prices were routinely inflated by fake bids made by friends of the sellers. Despite the change, the initial act of making a purchase is still expressed using the verb pai (拍), “to bid,” probably a holdover from Taobao’s roots as an eBay clone. Once they have placed their “bid” (p`ixi3拍下), the customer then goes on to pay through an internet banking service.
亲 (q~n) - dear (buyers)
Not unlike a genial old tea lady or overenthusiastic barkeep, most Taobao shopkeepers tend to refer to their customers as qin (“dear,” “dearie,” or if you prefer the British slang, “ducky”), whether they’re young or old, male or female. while in real life, this may be deemed inappropriate, the friendly qin is like a ray of warmth reaching out across the cold wastes of cyberspace.
宝贝 (b2ob-i) - treasure (any item for sale)
The tao (淘) in Taobao (淘宝) literally means “to dredge out” or “to pan for”(gold, etc.), and here it is used figuratively to mean “search for”. The bao (宝) means“treasure”―so by the site’s very name, navigating Taobao’s digital marketplace is akin to searching for a valuable trinket in some labyrinthine oriental bazaar. Just in case you had any lingering doubts as to the quality of what you are looking at, all Taobao shopkeepers refer to their items as “treasures” (宝贝 b2ob-i).
It’s customary to talk your intended purchase over with the shopkeeper via Taobao’s online messaging system before any purchases are made. Such dialogues usually go something like this:
Buyer: Are you there, shopkeeper? M2iji`: Zh2nggu# z3i ma?
Seller: I’m here, dearie! M3iji`: Z3i de, q~n～
Buyer: Is this particular “treasure” in
stock? (followed by the name or hyperlink of the item in question)
M2iji`: Q@ngw-n zh- ji3n b2ob-i y6u hu7 ma?
Seller: Oh, yes it is, feel free to bid, dearie.
M3iji`: Y6u de o, q~n p`ixi3 ba.
Buyer: Is shipping included? M2iji`: B`oy5u ma?
Seller: Yes it is dearie, remember to leave good feedback after it arrives!
M3iji`: B`oy5u de o q~n, sh4ud3o j#de g0i
h2op!ng o q~n～
Giving feedback after a sale is completed is an essential part of the Taobao process. Feedback comes in roughly three forms: positive (好评h2op!ng), neutral (中评 zh4ngp!ng) and negative (差评 ch3p!ng). Sellers live and die by their reviews, and anything less than positive feedback can be a death knell for their business prospects. Examples of positive feedback:
The genuine article at a fair price. Hu7 zh8n ji3 sh!.
The shopkeeper shipped very quickly, and the express delivery was really something.
Zh2nggu# f`hu7 h0n ku3i, ku3id# h0n g0il#.
I’m very happy with it, and the seller provides very thoughtful service! Great!
W6 du# b2ob-i h0n m2ny#, m3iji` f%w& y0 h0n
A common complaint would be that the item received differs from the
From marKetplace to mall
with more than 400 million users, Taobao has become a nation unto itself, complete with its own laws―and
problems. Recently, in
a bid to streamline the
massive business and limit counterfeiting, Taobao split into three portals: Taobao
(淘宝商城 T1ob2o sh`ngch9ng),
The buyer is encouraged to
leave comments on the product
alongside their feedback, and the
seller can publicly respond if they
feel it necessary: this can make for
some interesting exchanges. These
exchanges are not reasoned debates―after all, the system only allows for one comment from the buyer, followed by a single retort from the seller―so the seller usually leaves a brief explanation or witticism, and calls it a day. A
sense of humour is an unwritten
requirement of being a successful
An example of negative feedback
and the seller’s response concerning
the purchase of a “fashionable
Buyer’s feedback: The seller does not
provide good service―I know you’re very busy, but you don’t need to be quite so
curt when speaking with me. If it’s not“yeah,” it’s “OK”; only ever one word at a time. This disrespect is why I’m giving a negative review.
M2iji`: M3iji` f%w& b&h2o, su~r1n w6 zh~d3o n@ h0n m1ng, d3n m0ic# y0 b%b# h9 w6 shu4hu3 r%c@ ji2nd`n ba, b%sh# “ng”, ji&sh# “h2o”, y! g- z# y! g- z# de shu4, t3i b& z$nzh7ng r9n le, su6y@ g0i g- ch3p!ng.
Negative feedback is mostly
mitigated by a generous returns
policy: if you are unsatisfied with your purchase, you can usually send it back(退货 tu#hu7). For most, the guarantee of a seven-day no-fuss return policy
is what gives them the peace of mind required to buy online. The more
militant Taobao users verbalize their strong feelings about returns with
sentiments like the following:
This reflects an emergent truth of
shopping in the modern age: on a
platform where every customer has the right to make very visible complaints, it is no longer the buyer that should
beware―it is the seller.