Starting a new life in China can seem like a struggle in the beginning. First, you need to look for jobs in China, then you need to think about your visa. Finally, you need to think about what to bring, and also research your new city. The good news is, there's a wonderful little site called Taobao. Taobao makes shopping in China an absolute doddle. You can find almost anything you'll ever want or need on this site and I've created this post to help you find a few bargains!
When I was living in the US, as a student on a budget, I loved shopping at bargain clothing stores where you can get brand name clothes at discounted prices. So when I decided to move to Shanghai, one of my biggest concerns was whether I would be able to find stores that sell stylish and quality clothing at an affordable price.
During my first two years here, I found the selection of clothing very limited. Many local brands with unflattering designs are sold at high prices, while the cheaper ones tend to be poor in quality.
Then I stumbled upon shops that specialise in selling “surplus” export clothing on Taobao. While many people complain about the poor quality or counterfeit products on Taobao, there is also an abundance of high-quality clothing and shoes that are sold at extremely affordable prices (if you know where to look), mainly due to the fact that China is the world's largest clothing manufacturing and exporting hub.
When factories here manufacture clothing for export, there are inevitably cancelled orders or products that fail to meet quality control. On Taobao, many shop owners would purchase these items and sell them online.
Export clothing is usually of much better quality than those manufactured for local brands. While they come with a high price tag when sold in stores abroad, those that come directly out of the factories here are very cheap, due to the unfortunate fact that labour is relatively cheap here, and factories have a very narrow profit margin.
Let's say you are looking for a pair of jeans. You type in “wai mao niu zai ku” in the search box—“wai mao” stands for foreign trade, which filters out jeans that are not manufactured for export（this can be misleading though since some shops selling non-export clothes will include these words in their descriptions. This is done to give the impression of higher quality clothing). “Niu Zai KU” stands for jeans (by the way, if you don't know the Chinese characters, this is a perfect opportunity for language exchange. Another way is to use a translation app simply to translate the key words).
Thousands of selections come up, and once you have spotted the design and price that you like, one way to determine that they are indeed export quality is to look at the overall items that the shop is selling. They tend to be disparate in style since they will be selling a wide variety of brands depending on what is available from the factories. Also, each style and size usually hasonly a very limited amount. Reviews from previous buyers can be very useful as well.
If you are unsure about what size to get, be sure to communicate with the seller who will help you determine the right size. Since most Taobao sellers don't speak English, you might wish to enlist the help of a Chinese friend to assist with the communication, or if you are studying Chinese, this is an excellent opportunity for practice. Also double check returns and exchange policies. Once you start bookmarking one or two stores that you like, Taobao will automatically start recommending similar stores to you, and very soon you will have built your own virtual mall with all of your favourite shops in it.
Good luck treasure hunting!