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Why foreigner students love taobao

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Though I live and work in China, I always try to return to the UK to spend Christmas with my family. That means I need do my Christmas shopping in China. I really enjoy trying to get gifts with a bit of Chinese character, things connected to Chinese culture, which they couldn’t see or find back home. That used to be really tough for me. I don’t have a car to travel to places outside of Beijing, I don’t recognize local craftsmen…

So I used to end up going to the Silk Market in Beijing — which I hated but didn’t know what else to do. It felt like most things there were fake, or poor quality, and because everyone thought I was a tourist they would try to charge me ridiculous prices. I’ve never liked bargaining, and it annoys me when people are trying to charge me much more than something is worth.

Now — I Taobao, and it’s so much better.

I can look for things at my leisure, I can look at photos and read up on the products, it’s much easier to learn about the history or significance of the things I’m buying. So far I’ve bought pieces of jewelry, porcelain, silk scarves, and more. I know none is antique but you can see more information about where things are from, and the prices are transparent.

Best of all, I can send a Taobao link to a Chinese friend for a second opinion — they can tell me if something looks good, is over-priced, or not worth buying. Everything is just so much better. I haven’t been to the silk market or other tourist shops in years and I’m loving it.


In the UK, I tend not to shop online too much. Delivery is too slow and expensive… But in China, more and more, I’m learning that I shouldn’t even waste time going to the shops — I should just go straight to Taobao.

A few weeks ago some light bulbs broke in my house. I wanted to fix them that night so I went straight to the shop (Xiaomaibu) in our community. They only had bulbs with the big size heads, so I walked to another store, they had the right size heads but only white LEDs in an ugly box from a no-name brand. So I tried a third store — they too only had bright white from a no-name brand.

In frustration I bought 5 bulbs, together costing almost 100 RMB and took them home. Upon trying them, I found two didn’t work, and the other three gave out such an ugly artificial white light I just didn’t want to use them.

So I did what I should have done in the first place. I pulled out my iPhone, I went on TMall, chose a Beijing seller for speed, and bought 5 soft-yellow Phillips bulbs. They arrived within a couple of days, all worked perfectly and were significantly cheaper than the rubbish I bought from the Xiaomaibu. Next time, I’m going straight to Taobao.


I have a bit of guilty pleasure for buying much more audio equipment than I need. I’ve got more sets of over-ear headphones, in-ear headphones, speakers, DACs, and more — almost more than I can even remember.

Because China prices can be expensive, I used to wait until I was back in the UK to buy everything. But now with Taobao Daigou I don’t need to.

I’ve bought Western brands like B&O and Seinheisser at good prices. But even better, Taobao is allowing me to explore brands it would be a lot harder and more expensive to buy back home.

I’ve bought rare Japan-only headsets, and am getting into awesome Chinese brands (like SoundMagic, Oppo, and HiFi Man) that none of my friends from back home have ever heard of.

Taobao has become a method not just to buy but to explore a passion. That’s the main reason I and many foreigner students in China love shopping on Taobao.

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