Cut out the middleman – reap savings from online shopping

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We all know the way to buy cheap goods is to go to the source, or close to the source. The internet made this possible by enabling the manufacturer to sell directly to end customers. You can just about find anything online these days, to the point that fresh food is about the only thing i buy from a store now.

There are 4 websites from which i buy stuff regularly – iHerb.com, taobao.com, amazon.com and ebay.com. iherb.com mainly sells supplements but also includes toiletries, beauty products and foodstuff. What makes it attractive to buy from iHerb.com is the super low delivery fee to Singapore, at US$4 for a package that weighs up to 6.3kg! The packages are always delivered within a week, you can’t beat that! While their prices are usually not cheap (vs Amazon), they are still very reasonable, and if you factor in the low delivery fee, it’s worthwhile buying from them. As a first time customer on iherb.com, if you use the coupon code FFH116 during check out, you’ll save US$10 (on orders above US$40)!

taobao.com lets you buy things from the source, i.e. China, the “world’s factory”. You can find just about anything on the site. There is just one important requirement for you to be able to buy from taobao – you guessed it, you have to know Chinese. Obviously, taobao.com is purely in Chinese, and you have to be pretty good at knowing the exact keyword to search to find what you want, though the suggestions given as you type in the keyword does help a lot. The English version of taobao.com is aliexpress.com, but the goods offered are a much smaller subset of what’s available on taobao, and the prices are also much higher (but still enticing). taobao.com currently offers international air shipment to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. For bulky items, you can arrange for sea freight shipment. So what should you buy from taobao? Basically everything excluding branded goods and food (some food items are not allowed to be imported). Often times, you can find factory overrun authentic branded items (e.g. kitchen wares) at a fraction of the actual retail cost. These are truly the best buys.

When Amazon.com introduced their AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping, offering free shipping to Singapore, they made it exceedingly compelling to buy from them. That’s right, you can buy items at US prices and enjoy free shipping to Singapore if your order is above US$125. Not all items qualify for the free shipping though, but many electronic goods and apparels are eligible, and these are typically the things you want to buy.

ebay.com offers goods from individual sellers. You will find niche product offerings, such as collector items, and items that are not for retail sales. I regularly buy beauty products in sample sizes on behalf of my wife, at a fraction of the price of the retail product. You should know that beauty products are damn expensive and you can save A LOT when you do this.

I always wonder about what is going to happen to retailers, if i can almost always find what they sell cheaper online. A departmental store offers me the convenience of trying out shoes, for example, which i then buy online. My guess is that shops that bring in big-ticket items to sell will die off. While i don’t think shopping malls in Singapore will be closing down the way they do in the US, i think they will or have become largely places for social gathering and for obtaining services. Adapt or perish, as they say.

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6 Comments

  1. Dear Yen Kai,
    your article has been very useful for someone who is not an expert on online shopping but do want to venture into this mode for saving in the expensive, high standard of living’s Singapore.

    Thanks for your kindness and effort in sharing your precious knowledge. Appreciate it!

  2. Hi. Do you know how to ship liquid stuff via sensitive air directly from taobao. Ezbuy does sensitive air shipping . Just wanted to go direct from taobao so don’t have to pay for agent and courier fees.

    1. Hi Khris, you just need to use the ship-for-me service. When you check out on Taobao, use your ezbuy forwarding address as the shipping address (this is the key step). When ezbuy receives and notifies you of the parcel arrival at their warehouse, choose sensitive air shipping method, that’s all.

  3. Hi Yenkai,

    Can Singaporeans make direct purchases using the original taobao china app? It prompted me for a credit card but says my card from a bank in singapore as not recognised. I do not want to make purchases via ezbuy cos more expensive, correct?

    1. Hi Ling, I’m not sure what are your reasons for choosing to do so, but i’ve not made any purchase through the Taobao app before. You correctly pointed out that there is a Taobao “China” app, and there is another Taobao “World” app. I presume the “world” version should work, but i’m not sure. Why not just make purchases through the website? I think there is less chance of making a mistake when you place your order through the website. Plus, you can earn cashback by going through Shopback.

      There is usually agent fee (the commission you pay ezbuy for them to handle the purchase for you) involved when making purchases via ezbuy, so yes, it is usually more expensive. Another advantage of making purchases directly with Taobao is, you can communicate with the seller directly, for enquiry, or in case anything goes wrong.

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