Method #1: Searching in English
Pro’s: You’ll probably find exactly what you’re looking for and it’s super easy.
Con’s: TaoBao sellers that use English in their descriptions and titles are almost all going to hike their prices way up. Also, it will only be able to search for those English words, so you’re only going to get results from the small subset of sellers who use English in their store.
Method #2: Searching in chinese using a translator
Pro’s: Way more results than searching in English and the prices will be lower.
Con’s: It is sometimes harder than you’d expect to find an accurate translation than what you’re looking for.
Example: I was looking for a griddle for making pancakes on. Using the Google Translate word for “griddle”, this is what TaoBao gave me…
Not quite what I had in mind… So, when you’re translator fails you – what can you do?
Method #3: Searching by photo
Pro’s: You can search all of the listings on TaoBao with out using any chinese whatsoever.
Con’s: It’s certainly not foolproof. Sometimes it works like a charm and others it’s a total fail.
Example: This time, I did a Google Image search for pancake griddles. I saved a clear photo of a griddle on a white background. Then I clicked the camera icon in the TaoBao search bar below and uploaded my griddle photo.
This time, I got these results…
Much better! But take notice of the boxes at the top that I circled. These are categories. TaoBao will automatically try and guess which category you were looking for. If it guesses wrong, just click through the other categories to see if there’s a better match.
Here’s another example.
This time, I searched for a photo of a candy cane and TaoBao sent me to the toy category. Let’s look for a food category instead…
There they are! Now, if you don’t want to blindly click through each category and you can’t read chinese, I highly recommend using the Zhongwen Chrome extension. It allows you to hover over a character and see it’s translation (example below). Since using an auto-translation service to translate the whole page can cause problems with the TaoBao website, I find this tool to be much more useful.
bonus method: The “Ikea hack”
Before I had perfected the methods above, I figured out how to use the IKEA website as a fool proof translator. For example, recently a friend asked me if I knew how to find those giant rolls of butcher paper on TaoBao. Since I know that’s an item that IKEA sells, I taught her this trick.
Go to Ikea.com/cn/en (the “cn” means you’re shopping for items available in China, the “en” means that you want the site to display in English) and search for the object you want.
On the product page, go to the address bar and replace the “en” with “zh”. This tells the website that you want it to display in Chinese or, as they say in Chinese – 中文 (zhongwen).
Now you can copy/paste the product description into your TaoBao search bar and away you go!
Hopefully these tips help you navigate the treasures of TaoBao with a bit more success and less frustration!