How does an expat in Hangzhou buy things online in China?

Expat in China ordering items online
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How does an expat in Hangzhou buy things online in China?

How does an expat in Hangzhou do an online shopping? Can I use my foreign credit card on Chinese stores or do I need to have a Chinese bank account? It’s these types of questions that expats ask all the time when it comes how to buy things online in China as an expat in Hangzhou.

Fortunately, today, online retail outlets like Taobao, JD.com, and Amazon China among others have made shopping in China easy. Whether you’re shopping to spruce up your apartment, need new clothes, imported goods, snacks or some of the hottest items around, shopping online can bring a great deal of savings and convenience to your life as an expat in Hangzhou. In this guide, we cover all the topics you need to know to start taking advantage of China’s online marketplaces.

How to Pay for Things Online in China

First things first: if you’d like to buy things online in China as an expat in Hangzhou, by far the easiest way to do so is by having a personal bank account with a Chinese bank. Amazon China is one of the only retailers we know of that allows customers to purchase using a foreign credit card. For all other platforms, a Chinese bank account is required.

For starters, check with your Chinese bank to ensure online payments is enabled on your account. Otherwise, you will not be able to make any online purchases. To enable online payments, go into your local bank and say or show to the banker, “开网上支付功能 (Kāi wǎngshàng zhīfù gōngnéng).” Once online payments have been enabled, you can use your bank card to purchase products on any e-commerce website in China.

Mobile phone with ecommerce app

For an extra layer of security when paying for items online in China, use Alipay when checking-out. When using Alipay, payment is deducted during check-out and not transferred into the sellers account until after you certify you have received the product and want to proceed with payment.

To link your bank account to Alipay, download the app onto your phone and follow the prompts to register. Once on the main screen, click on the pocket option on the top right. From there, you can add your bank card information under the field with the credit card icon. After linking your bank card to your account, you can start using your Alipay to purchase items online.

Expat in China holding a box

How to Get Packages Delivered to Your Home in China

Having items delivered to your home depends on where you live. If you live on a school campus, check-in with your school administrator about how to list your address and where packages are delivered.

Most likely there is a school employee whose job it is to receive packages on behalf of staff members on your school campus.

However, if you live in a community apartment, it may make sense to list your employer’s location as the delivery address. Delivery in China is not similar to Western countries where packages are simply left at your door. 

Instead, the courier calls you prior to delivery to ensure you are home. If you are not available, they will suggest an alternative time to make the delivery to ensure the package does not end up in the wrong hands or lost.

If you speak a decent level of Chinese, most likely you can handle arranging delivery over the phone. If not (and why not try to learn Chinesesince you live in China?!), list your employer as the primary address so you can easily pick it up from whomever manages the mail.

When receiving packages in person, it is a good idea to open them up and ensure they are in good quality condition. If not satisfied, you can let the courier know you do not want it and they will return it to the sender. If after delivery has been made you want to make a return, you need to follow the return process on the e-commerce website where you made the purchase. This also includes reaching out to the local express delivery courier (快递公司 / kuadi gonsii) to arrange a pick-up to return your package.

Now, let’s take a moment to dive deeper into each of these online platforms.

Smartphone with chinese online shop on there

Taobao – China’s Largest Marketplace

Founded by Jack Ma and Alibaba Group in 2003, Taobao is the largest e-commerce marketplace in China. As a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) website, Taobao allows businesses and individual entrepreneurs to sell on the platform.

The biggest appeal with Taobao is the large volume of sellers. With over 800 million product listings, you are bound to find anything you need at a reasonable price. Additionally, consumers can always look forward to November 11th, known locally as “shuang shiyi”, where you can purchase heavily discounted merchandise as part of the world’s largest shopping extravaganza.

Yet with high volumes of sellers, Taobao is rampant with large numbers of counterfeit goods sold on the marketplace. Although Alibaba is currently taking measures to reduce fakes on Taobao, your best way to avoid counterfeit goods is to review seller ratings along with customer feedback found at the bottom of the product posting page. If you cannot read Chinese, Google Translate can do the trick in helping you determine the good sellers from the bad. In the end, if a post looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

TMall – Great for Imported Goods

Also owned by Alibaba, Tmall was launched as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform. Unlike Taobao, TMall’s B2C model restricts sellers to official manufacturers or registered brands. In addition, prior to opening a shop on Tmall, sellers need to provide documentation to confirm the authenticity of the company, manufacturer, or brand.

Under this model, consumers are better protected from counterfeit goods and can rest easy knowing that everything sold on the platform is genuine and delivered directly from the manufacturer or brand.

Expat in China with shopping bags

To date, TMall has over 70,000 official stores and features many foreign brands making it a good platform for purchasing imported goods. Some of the top-selling imported products include cosmetics and hygiene, diapers, ice cream, and even apples and cherries. Furthermore, like Taobao, you can also look forward to huge discounts on the website during shuang shiyi.

Delivery guy with a JD box

JD.com – Fastest Shipping Options 

JD.com or Jingdong has a business model similar to Amazon where it operates as a retailer while simultaneously allowing 3rd Party sellers to do business on the platform. Taobao and TMall, on the other hand, are strictly online marketplaces. Like its competitors, you can find products of all types on the website and there are increasing numbers of imported goods available for purchase.

You are also likely to get great bargains on electronics, as JD.com often features promotions on electronic goods.

In terms of how JD.com differentiates itself from the competition, the platform is unparalleled in quick shipping options. Some areas in China even offer 3 hour and night delivery options. With a network of over 60 warehouses across the country and nearly 1,000 delivery stations and 300 pickup stations, you are always likely to receive our products quickly after purchase. Depending on the seller, you can also pay for goods at the time of ordering online or wait until delivery. Similar to TMall, all goods are also guaranteed by JD.com thus limiting customer concerns for purchasing counterfeit products.

Final Thoughts – Online Shopping in China

As an an expat in Hangzhou, shopping online on any of China’s e-commerce websites is bound to make your life in China a great deal more comfortable. While there are pros and cons to each online platform, a lot of what will determine which website to shop on depends on your own personal tastes.

Try ordering a mix of items from each website to decide which online marketplace you like best and be sure to share your experience in the comments below.

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