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[How to]: Taobao The Easy Way

The simpliest way to use Taobao. You don't need online banking or AliPay. Just a bank card, a phone, and a machine called Aladdin that lives at Family Mart.
By Nov 28, 2014 Shopping

Update, May 22, 2015: Unfortunately the Aladdin payment method no longer works. However, all of the other steps (sign-up, shopping, checkout) described in this guide are still valid. If you can read a bit of Chinese, you can select a different payment method, or have a friend pay. Look out for a new Taobao article coming soon.

It's Black Friday and I just got paid. I wanna buy some treats. I want to consume. I used to have my Chinese friends buy goods for me on Taobao but they've stopped returning my text messages.

Luckily there's a way to use Taobao with minimal Chinese knowledge and a Chinese debit/credit card. You don't need AliPay or online banking or any of that confusing shit. All you need is a computer, a Chinese phone number, a bank card, a machine called Aladdin that you can find at many Family Marts and 7-11's in Shanghai, and this guide. In further tech articles, we'll cover how to set up Alipay and do more advanced Taobao-ing, but let's keep it basic today. Here we go.

I. Setting Up A Taobao Account

You'll need a Taobao account, so go to the Taobao website and click the circled bit.

Enter your phone number and do the Captcha. You'll get a text message with a code in a few seconds. Input that in the code box.

Now you choose a user name and password. Now you're good. Once you've done this successfully Taobao will automatically log you in and you can start shopping.

II. Finding The Treats

Alright time to find some products to consume. If you're searching for a common brand name like Haribo, it's fine to use English. If you're looking for something more specific like...inflatable animals, it's better to translate that to Chinese then search.

See how Shanghai (上海) is circled in the bottom right? When possible, you should buy from sellers near you to reduce shipping time. You probably wouldn't want to order treats from Lan Zhou or something.

You're also gonna wanna check the seller's feedback. This is **especially important** when using the method in this guide. If you use AliPay, then AliPay will hold your money for seven days until you recieve the product and you confirm that it's all good. But by using this method, you're just paying directly to the seller with no safeguards. Sounds scary, but if you go with a high-rated seller, you'll be fine.

Those blue crowns are good. Click on those to see some more detailed info about the seller.

Red is good in Chinese. This seller has all reds and it says high (高). Also, they've got 93% positive feedback on over 2,300 orders. That's a good sign. Definitely don't order from people with low feedback or not much history.

III. Buying The Treats

Ok those treats look good. Throw em' in the cart by clicking that button. You can access your cart at the top of the screen. Click that orange button to go in there.

Once you're in your cart, you'll need to check that box to the left of the item. Then click the orange box in the lower right to proceed.

Now, the first time you do this, you'll get a screen that asks you to enter your address info. You'll need to enter that in Chinese and it's really important to put your phone number in so the delivery guy can contact you.

After that, select your shipping method. In general, the default kuai di (快递) is the way to go. There's also a little box to check if you just want your friend who has AliPay or something to pay for you. If you want to pay yourself, just leave that unchecked and click the check out button.

IV. Paying For The Treats

Let's look at that "have a friend pay option" real quick. If you checked that box, you'll get the following screen. Now all you need to do is enter your friend's email address or Taobao account number. After you do that and click the orange button, they'll get a message on their phone and take it from there.

If you didn't check that box, you'll get this screen. You want to click the tab all the way on the right. That's for "other options". Then you'll need to change the city to Shanghai, otherwise Aladdin won't show up because most cities in China don't have these machines.

This is what the city-select screen looks like. Once you choose Shanghai for city and area, you'll get the option for Aladdin. Just click that orange button and BOOM...

Ok now you've got your code. Better click that button and send it to your phone, because you'll need the code and the price of your order. Once you've got that, head to your local Family Mart...

V. The Aladdin Machine

There's the Aladdin Machine. Beautiful. Aladdin has many functions – you can top up your mobile phone, pay bills, and buy shit on taobao. This whole process will take like two minutes.

Click that lil' Taobao button in the bottom left.

Select "Offline Payment".

Enter that code and item price that's in the text you recieved, then hit that orange button.

Enter your phone number and click the orange button. Aladdin likes to play it safe, man. Then select the second option on the right – that's for debit/credit cards.

On the next screen you'll see the total amount. Verify that and press the orange button.

Now stick your card in the slot. Aladdin will spit it right back out.

Now just enter your PIN number and BOOM! You're done.

You'll get a little screen with a smiling woman that says success (成功). Now just wait a few days for those treats and you're golden.

That's it. Although this guide has a lot of steps, this process is really fast.

I also bought this, because Haibao will never die in my heart.


Look out for future adventures in Taobaoland, including how to set up AliPay...



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  • Perane

    Been waiting for this since they took the lakala away, hen hao;)

  • mistergraves

    The... SIMPLE way?!
    It's about 100 times simpler to send a link of the products to your Chinese friend and then give them a 20 kuai ordering fee.

  • reggae809

    nice article thanks for the info question: would the option to pay with cash at the family mart be easier than a credit card? the bottom button on the payment list has it 现金之收..

  • handoogies

    ^20 kuai ordering fee? That's no friend.

  • Unverified User

    Great article! Good job Ian.

  • calatrava

    Simplest is paying with your foreign credit card, there's a small processing fee (i forget the exact percent) but minimal steps and BS.

  • Gabtrotter

    Simplest is learning how to use your online banking, but this is good for those of you who can't figure it out.

  • mistergraves

    Yeah, 20 kuai. You find the product. You send them the link. You give them the cash. They go "click, click, done" and they get 20 kuai.

    A "friend" would do it for free.

  • renatopellicer

    I had a bit trouble setting for the first time (Actually the issue was with the alipay account, to verify with chinese bank card).
    Can be complicated at the beginning, but now i just click one button and the money leaves my account and everything is done. I think it is worth if you plan to be a regular.

  • Ian L

    Hey thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

    @mistergraves - that does work but if you do that too often, your friend might get annoyed, as I've experienced first hand. also, it's nice to feel self-succifient.

    @reggae809 - will try the cash option today or tomorrow and update.

  • Ian L

    @renatopellicer - Yeah linking your bank card and Alipay is definitely the way to go but it is a bit complicated in the beginning, especially with that Alipay verification software and getting verified as a foreigner. Will go through all that in an upcoming article.

  • rebekahdub

    @Ian L the cash option is really easy. I made an 800 rmb purchase and was able to pay cash at the register for it. You can just pay all at once with your snacks.

    Also, you can select the "lakala" function on the check-out page even if you're not listed in Shanghai (if you have vpn on), receive a code, and use it the same way at the aladdin machine.

  • mau85

    If that is easier than finding a friend to do ir for you, your people skills must be shit.

  • Cverbost

    We simply use our mastercard to pay for everything. Select the overseas card option its in the dropdown menu right at the top of the screen of the second picture in the "IV Paying for your treats" section, so next to the alipay sign. No hassle no problems. But thnx for the detailed description now I can show my friends this instead of explaining it over and over again.

  • Ian L

    @mau85 - personally I don't always want to have friends do things for me, especially when I'm ordering 5-7 different items in a week. it gets old.

  • fridawidinghoff

    You do know that there are books and free online tuts in English on how to get your whole TB working without leaving the sofa for a cold run to Family Mart. I fixed TB & Alipay 7 yrs ago but maybe things have gotten more complicated for foreigners in reacent years. whatever works for you is better than no TB!

  • fridawidinghoff

    or COD, Cash on Delivery!

  • jtf1987

    Another great article plagued by swearing, honestly Ian is there really any need to lower the tone? You give journalists a bad name, have a bit of decorum about yourself man!

  • Juliana

    Thanks for the article!
    but personally I'd rather to bother my friend from time to time:)

  • veronka2909

    Honestly? If you live in China for longer than a few months asking Chinese friends to pay for you is definitely a bit childish. Both ways - paying online or using the Aladdin machine are better than bothering people all the time.. Especially for those who use Taobao all the time!

  • Sofía YXF

    Wow... I could help...

  • gilly893

    Hi, please can someone help... the page navigation has changed when you get to the checkout and I can't find the check box for the aladdin machine. It's really bugging me! Does anyone know how to do it?

  • Ian L

    @gilly893 - Hey I'm the author. I just bought some plane tickets on Taobao last night using this method, so it still works. Here's some tips: 1) Turn off your VPN when you use Taobao (or any Chinese website). 2) On the payment type selection page, look for the location drop down menu on the top of the page. It's important that this says "中国大陆" and not "海外", "台湾", or "香港". The Aladdin method will only show up if your location is mainland China. Otherwise, everything should work fine. Also, recommend using Safari if you're on a Mac. If you run into some problems, try restarting your browser. Best luck.

  • calatrava

    Using a foreign credit card will incur a 3% fee. Using the Aladdin machines for offline payment is only possible for a maximum amount of 5,000rmb per transaction, so if you're looking to buy an expensive air purifier or roundtrip ticket back home, this technique won't work if it costs more than 5,000rmb.

    There's a function at these machine (or used to be--haven't used them in a long while) where you can add money to your Alipay account by selecting an amount at the machine, paying said amount to the cashier, then the requisite codes are sent to your mobile phone. This method only works if your Alipay account is verified (which is not hard to do).

  • Perane

    Are u really sure it still works to pay on the machines?

  • Ian L

    As of two weeks ago, yes. Used it to buy some music equipment and a flight.

  • gilly893

    Yes it works thanks! I have had a few things delivered now - so much more convenient than asking people. Although - I can't seem to pay with my card now, but cash at the checkout option works... Just make sure you have cash on you first!

  • Didibou

    Apparently there is no alipay service on the family mart machine anymore? I checked today, the top up alipay wasnùt working and the alipay at the bottom of the main screen was replaced by china unicom app. Any ideas ?

  • luoteman

    Tried today at a Family Mart. Didn't see the Taobao button. Like the poster before me, I saw that the icon was replaced with a china unicom one. too bad!

  • eithne

    Why - No taobao icon!! Anybody know how else to pay it?? Are the Lakala machines still around?? :,-(

  • 4 years ago Unverified User

    Can we use this service in Taiwan?

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