The online marketplaces have seen a boom in their sales volume recently, thanks to the Circuit Breaker measure that has resulted in home-bound people doing much more shopping online than in brick-and-mortar shops.

You may not have noticed, but I’ve seen the online sellers or merchants swing from panic selling to now hiking prices (beer prices especially) and milking the cash cow from increased demand. At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, they were actually worried about holding on to too much stock on hand, and they tried to offload at highly discounted prices. Thankfully i caught some of that action, since I’ve always been buying stuff online. Because it’s cheaper when you buy online!

I thought now is a good time to share my experiences on how you can save when you do online shopping. Probably 80% of the items i buy when shopping at online marketplaces (Taobao isn’t considered one) are groceries, because you need to eat everyday right.

The reason buying online is cheaper is because a lot of times you’re buying directly from the distributor or supplier, and not only do you not need to pay any middleman, the savings of not having to maintain a storefront is also passed on to you. Plus, the online marketplaces would run promotional events from time to time, to give you savings in the form of cashback (i.e. they pass back to you a portion of the commission they would have earned from the transaction). I’m not an expert in this industry, but i would think the commission is typically around 30%, so you stand to enjoy discounts of sometimes even up to 30% when some of these online marketplaces go crazy.

I will zoom right in onto the only two online marketplaces you should be bothered about – Qoo10 and Shopee. You must be wondering, what about Lazada? Well, Lazada does not give you any real cashback. The only reason I would use Lazada sometimes is, they own RedMart, and RedMart has some interesting products that they carry exclusively. Not during this Circuit Breaker period though, they have temporarily stopped taking in products from external suppliers.

Here are the comparisons on Qoo10 and Shopee:

Qoo10Shopee
What to buy:
– Korean goods. Qoo10 being a Korean company, they offer an easy way to buy Korean goods shipped from Korea (although for foodstuff it’s still cheaper to buy from a brick-and-mortar store like Sol Mart or Lee Mart)
– Electrical appliances. Wait for a Super Sale event when Qoo10 gives out high value cart coupons. For example, $30 off $250, or $120 off $1000. The sales person at Harvey Norman or Best Denki will never give you a $100 discount out of the commission they are making from your purchase, but Qoo10 (just a computer) will happily do so.
What to buy:
– Low priced accessories and gadgets similar to those found on Taobao (Shopee is very much like a local front for Taobao sellers). Prices are very competitive because you will find more than one seller for the same product.
– Digital purchases, such as Grab promo codes, mobile top ups, Cathay cinema tickets and food vouchers are also good deals. You get instant delivery, so you can buy on the spot and save every time. (Update: it doesn’t always get delivered instantly, like I’ve encountered for GrabFood vouchers)
– Groceries. S-Mart gives you 15% cashback, and this makes them much cheaper than a supermarket. Also, get free delivery from just a minimum of $40 purchase, sometimes only $20 or $10.
How much to spend on Qoo10: items costing $10 all the way up to big ticket items costing more than a thousand dollar.
Why: Qoo10 gives out coupons that amount to very sizeable discounts, especially when they run their Super Sale event. These are in the form of cart coupons, which means you have the flexibility of combining various items from the entire Qoo10 site to hit the minimum amount required for utilizing the coupon.
How much to spend on Shopee: low priced items (even $0.30) up to $70.
Why: You can get discounts by utilizing your accumulated Shopee coins, and there isn’t any minimum amount requirement. You can always use your Shopee coins to offset 30% of your purchase price, subjected to a maximum of $10 per day (i.e. you can only make purchases of up to $33.33 if you want to fully capitalize on the 30% offset). Besides that, you can also get brand/shop specific discounts and cashback of up to 15% in the form of Shopee coins. Note that since you can only use up to $10 worth of Shopee coins each time, it’s better to spend only $50 (and take $10 off that – save 20%) than to spend, say $100 (and still only get $10 off – save only 10%). So, strangely, Shopee is encouraging you to spend less. (Update: these days Shopee is also giving out higher value discount vouchers, but it can be confusing and doing a purchase on Qoo10 is still much more straightforward)
What’s so great about Qoo10: The discount amount is very significant for higher spend amounts. No other online marketplace comes close.What’s so great about Shopee: Free shipping on many items, even on items that cost less than a buck. With Shopee you don’t need to be bothered about doing shipping consolidation like you do on Taobao, or through a third party forwarder like ezbuy. You can find most of the popular Taobao items on Shopee, and they often cost about the same as on Taobao, or just a little more. However, by buying from Shopee, you get free shipping, direct to your home, hassle free and also GST exempt!
What’s not so great about Qoo10: The cart coupons are not applicable to products under Daily Deal and Time Sale. Often this makes it very hard to combine products to meet the minimum requirement to utilize cart coupons. Sometimes you’d rather the products be sold at regular prices than to be on Daily Deal or Time Sale.What’s not so great about Shopee: When the total purchase price is more than $50, the discount is not very attractive. Also, you have to put in quite some effort to accumulate Shopee coins, unless, you enjoy playing the Shopee games, which is very likely the case actually.
How much free credit you get a month: In terms of Q Coin and Qpoints $2.50 – $4How much free credit you get a month: In terms of Shopee coins – When there’s no ongoing event at all (which is hardly ever the case), under $2. With ongoing promo events, $2 – $5.

So, is it better to buy from Qoo10 or Shopee? The discount you get from Qoo10 can be up to 16.67% ($5 off $30 or $10 off $60), plus another $1 or $2 from your accumulated Qpoints. If you use Q Coin for payment, you can enjoy another 1% off by buying 50 Q coins. But that would also mean you’re left with $15 worth of excess Q coin credit. With Shopee, if you have chosen products with the cashback label, you can receive 15% cashback. You can now also stack other vouchers, such as discounts for using a certain credit card. But i must say you’re more likely to miss out on getting the maximum discount possible because there are too many options to consider, and often the minimum purchase amount to utilize the coupon is quite high ($65 and above).

Qoo10 is more straightforward – you’ll know how to get the maximum discount, and it is often slightly more than what you get from Shopee. However, Shopee’s model is more flexible in the sense there usually isn’t a minimum purchase amount to get cashback.

Here are tips on how to enjoy the maximum benefit when you shop on Qoo10:

  • Look out for discount coupons. They actually give out discount coupons everyday, but during special sales or better still, their Super Sale period, the discount percentage will be higher (regular = up to 15%, Super = up to 20%)
  • Activate and use the Q Coin credit system, which is like buying Bitcoins (Qoo10 says Q Coins are built on the Ethereum blockchain standard, whatever that means). You get 2% discount outright when you buy Q coins in 100s (about $150 currently). Although Qoo10 claims that the Q Coin value rises over time, i’ve seen it go from $1.43 to $1.53 then back to $1.51. So there is still risk involved, although the claim that the value rises over time is probably true in the long run. I don’t buy and keep the Q Coins, i just buy the amount that is just enough to immediately pay off the items i am about to buy.
  • The other advantage of activating your Q Coin wallet is, well, you need a wallet to deposit the free Q Coin Qoo10 awards you. When you have accumulated 100 MameQ, you can exchange them into 1 Q Coin (worth about $1.5 now). You can get 3 MameQ daily just by reading Qoo10 app shopping notifications. The easier way to do this is to go to the desktop version of Qoo10 and click on the shopping tweets at the bottom right. You can also earn MameQ by playing the Pokemon-copycat game under MemGo! Radar, as well as when you click on the “Get MameQ” link in the item shipped notification emails. Do the math and you will see that you can earn at least one Q coin ($1.5) every month.
  • Clock in your attendance daily. You accumulate Qpoints which can be used to offset your purchase amount, up to $5 each time. However, it takes probably 3 months to actually accumulate $5 worth of Qpoints by clocking attendance alone. You can also earn Qpoints by writing a review for your purchased items, and you get a lot more Qpoints doing this. Anyway, overall, Qpoints give you just marginal additional savings, but better than nothing.

Here are tips on how to enjoy the maximum benefit when you shop on Shopee:

  • Clock in your attendance daily. You earn only 21 coins (equivalent to 21 cents) per week doing so, which is comparable to Qoo10’s attendance reward. But as the Chinese saying goes 积少成多, however little you’re receiving, it will finally become many as you accumulate.
  • Play the Shopee games. You can expect to earn an average of 1 – 15 coins a day, depending on how good you are at playing games.
  • Claim the 15% cashback vouchers (currently awarded for using ShopeePay) or any special cashback vouchers depending on the ongoing promo. At worst, you can still fallback on the 10% cashback vouchers which are available all the time.
  • Choose products that have the cashback label to enjoy the 15% or 10% cashback from the vouchers you have claimed. But, do your math, it is possible that a product without the cashback label ending up cheaper than one that has the label even after factoring in the cashback. Remember, it is always better to save money upfront than to accumulate Shopee coins for use later.

Regardless of whether you use Qoo10 or Shopee, remember to always do your purchases through Shopback (referral link). You will earn another 1% in cashback (Update: unfortunately, both Qoo10 and Shopee have pulled out of Shopback just this past few days in the beginning of May 2020, but you will still get cashback from Taobao purchases). If you haven’t signed up with Shopback, you should do so now!

Finally, don’t forget that you can earn yet another 3% in cashback using the Citibank SMRT credit card, or 1.6% with Citi Cash Back+ card, or 1.5% with the Standard Chartered Unlimited card. By the way, there is a S$120 Cash Back Welcome Offer promo (running till Jan 2021) when you sign up the Citibank SMRT or Cash Back+ card. Simply spend $1200 within 3 months of activating the card. I’ve just received this 10% cash back so it’s a real deal!

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