Shopping TaoBao: Our first steps

Some time ago a forum member brought up Taobao as a cheap alternative to eBay. Since we like to shop on a budget, we decided to give it a go. Shopping on Taobao is not as easy as shopping on eBay, and consists of more steps between ordering, and receiving the item.

One of the first problems steps is to translate the page from Chinese to English (or your native language). We used Google Chrome for this as it automatically translates the webpage for you. The translation is decent, but sometimes rather funny. For example you are searching for baby, instead of items. With a little imagination you’ll figure out what the seller is selling.

Warning, most of the sellers don’t have a clue what they are selling, so double check everything. As example we ordered some dirt-cheap OLEDs. On the sales page there are links to the datasheet, and the pinout, so we felt confident. Unfortunately the datasheets were not right, but a quick google search gave us the right one. Yeah, another lesson learned!

The next problem is shipping outside of China. Taobao is strictly for Chinese people, and none of the sellers will ship outside China. To get your items you need to use one of the many taobao agents like taobaonow, gulleitaobaoagent , buyfromtaobao, or taobaomaster.

You pay the agent for getting your items to their warehouse, repacking them and shipping them to you. Additional services are combining orders from different sellers, checking the items or emailing pictures of the content. However that comes at a price of a few percent of the total order cost including shipping to the agent, and is approximately 5-10%. Also expect some additional cost when using PayPal.

We signed up for Taobaomaster as the sign up was super simple, and the fees appear to be reasonable. We haven’t investigated other agents very well, but we had a good feeling about them. Their fee is 10% over the total order when paid with creditcard and 14% when paid with PayPal. We ordered 30 pieces of the OLED for about 25$.

Hello,I am Wendy from, it¡¯s a great pleasure for me to help you buy
online from China.We have confirmed your order with all the shops; below is details:
items in it are available.
Your order will be bought once the first payment is done. First payment for your
order is 23.76USD,
you can pay directly on our web, 4% of the payment amount plus 0.3usd will be
charged automatically on our web when your order is paid via PayPal,
it¡¯s PayPal transfer fee.
To pay for your order, please click ¡®next¡¯ button after entering your account, and
you will be instructed to do the payment.
First payment for your order is 23.76USD+23.76USD*4%+0.3= 25.01USD.The second payment will be the international shipping fee.
It will be paid when all of the items in your order arrive at our place. We will
notify you the weight of your parcel and how much the shipping fee is by then.Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. JBest RegardsWendy L

During each step you get a nice email from them to inform about the status of the order.

the displays have arrived at our place.
I’m sorry but I over bought 1pieces,now 40pieces arrived at our place,
if you also want to buy the extra 10pieces?
we wait for your instructions.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. J

Best Regards

Wendy L

It appears they bought more (or got some extra for free) then we ordered. We thanked them for the offer, and tried to figure the shipping cost out. You might think their system would do it automatically,  but it wasn’t that easy. You need to go to the website of their transport agent and look up your cost. Next add the PayPal fee yourself and use that amount in the shipping cost.

After payment I got an email to confirm the shipment address (which I expected that they would get from PayPal).

thank you for your fast reply and shipping payment.
we will ship your parcel today by airmail small parcel.
its tracking number is RAxxxxxxxxx .
could you confirm your address ?
your shipping address must same as your billing address.
we wait for your instrcutions.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. J

Best Regards

Wendy L

With everything sorted we needed to wait for the items to arrive. We finished our order on September 4th, the items arrived in the warehouse on September 7th, and the stuff arrived at our door step on September 26th. We experienced the same shipping times as ordering from Chinese sellers on eBay.

Since we don’t have a breakout for this pitch (.845mm) we are currently designing a small demo board for this ‘baby’.

What would you buy on Taobao?

Join the Conversation


    1. No, I didn’t have a breakout for them. The display uses a wierd pitch (.845) that is not on the lcd breakout board I bought in Shenzhen.

      I made an eagle footprint for it and now in the process of designing a breakout board for it.

  1. I bought some lcd’s from taobao in the past. Very cheap. Much cheaper than from ebay.
    They also sell other nice, non DIYS products for cheap. Be careful with brands tough, most of them are cheap ripoffs.

    1. No, i had some bad expeerience with our customs, so i needed to stay under a certain amount to be sure.

      I know most sellers write a small amount on the customs form, but sometimes they write a bit too much :) We pay about 20$ handling fee + a percentage. With just .01$ above the threshold it really sucks :)

  2. Hello!
    I’m interested buying some webplatform anb busblaster. I asked to Ian (Dangerous Prototypes) about CE compliants, but he has no answer about E.U. requirements.
    Do you certify by yourself? are they CE compliant/marked?


    1. Ian is very busy atm.

      Our products aren’t certified CE compliant, nor CE marked. However I do think all of our products would pass CE compliancy as they got power from a DC powersupply (assuming a CE one) and the frequency and powerrange in which they operate are well below any threshold to harm other devices (again not tested/certified!). Also the product are sold in china, where CE doesn’t make any sense. Though It is the EU-buyer responsibility to ensure it wont harm any other devices. IMHO for hobby use not a big issue.

      Just my .02$ :)

  3. Hello.
    Does anybody have experience with Alsotao?
    They always after making an order and paymet responds with asking for more money for the sippment.

    For example item Pan flute with 25 pipes cost 56$. Shipping is 8 $.
    They after payment reply that flute for 56$ has only 15 pipes that flute with 25 pipes is for 65
    And shipping is not that weight so I have to pay extra 18 $ for shippment.

    So at beginning quiet cheap flute is on the end quiet expensive.
    And that way it is all the time.

    1. No, I just picked taobaomaster from one of the possibilities as it appeared a ‘good’ one. I can tell the first time it went rather smooth (i expected the worse). When we order more through them I could give a better more founded opinion of them.

      I would ask them for a refund as you specificly asked for a 25 pipes flute. Be aware that not all descriptions on taobao are the right ones and most copy bits and pieces from other sellers. In our case the offered datasheets were plain wrong, wrong pinout, wrong controller, wrong display. Always check and double check the advertisement of the item. Also if it is too good to be true, it usualy is...

    2. AlsoTao is a total rip off! Don’t waste time with those scumbags! I wanted to buy this:
      Metallized Polypropylene Capacitor 630V CBB22 1U pitch P = 20, costs about RMB 0.35 but alsotao lists it at $2 per piece which is crazy!

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