If you are a habitual online shopper, you would have come across Taobao – the largest and most comprehensive e-commerce platform in China. Many Singaporeans shop on Taobao and ship in their purchases either using the 4 main Taobao international parcel forwarding services (4PX, DPEX, DEX and PRouter) or through Ezbuy Ship-for-me / Prime (formerly known as 65daigou).
A brief overview of these two services:
(1) Taobao International Parcel Forwarding (TIPF) is the method which I have used most often. You download the Taobao App onto your mobile or access the Taobao website on your desktop. With TIPF, you enter your Singaporean address and choose one of the 4 providers (4PX, DPEX, DEX and PRouter) as your forwarding company. In order to use this service, you need to be able to read and write in Chinese. Everytime you carted an online purchase, the goods would be delivered to your TIPF warehouse in China. The average duration for which they can store your goods would be around 20 days; after which they may impose a fee for you. Once you accumulate enough shipment (usually round up to the nearest KG), you can combine all your items for a single shipment and these would be delivered to your house address in Singapore.
(2) Ezbuy ship-for-me or Ezbuy Prime (EP) – are alternative routes to bring in your products. There is a difference between these two services. Ezbuy is a third party platform where you can buy products from countries such as China, Taiwan and USA. However, shipping costs for Ezbuy ship-for-me is less predictable. A blanket may weigh around 3 kg in actual weight, but they may categorise it as 5 kg in volumetric weight because it takes up more space. So you may end up paying another 2 kg of extra shipping.
Ezbuy Prime is the alternative for those want to pay a flat fee for shipping irregardless of the weight. EP charges $2.99 per checkout – provided you subscribed to their service. Subscription is at $9.90 for 5 days and $99 per annum. That excludes agent fees, GST and home delivery charges. However, only items available on the Ezbuy Prime shop is eligible for this service.
It is now a very popular route for Taobao addicts to ship in their shopping loot using Ezbuy Prime.
Having used both services, I would like to offer my perspective on whether it is worthwhile paying the yearly subscription of $99 for Ezbuy Prime.
Advantages of Ezbuy Prime
(1) Easy to use for people who can only read English
This service is a godsend for people who cannot read Chinese on Taobao. You will be able to view all the products and its pricing in English. However, some of the products are poorly translated from the Chinese version and you may have difficulty understand the terms being used. Take for example; “Super Meng” is a direct translation from Chinese which means super cute. It doesn’t make any sense in English. Nonetheless, you will still be able to read what is listed on most of the products on Ezbuy website.
(2) Flat fee for shipping of bulky items
It is now common place for Singaporeans to ship in bulky furniture items from Taobao. Every now and then, you see new home owners showing off their sofa sets or coffee tables from Taobao. And the pricing for these items are surprising cheap too. For example, you will be able to get a decent 3 seater leather sofa from Taobao at the bargain price of 2980 rmb (that translates to about SGD 600; excludes shipping costs). A similar sofa set would have cost $1800 and above if you buy it locally. It makes a good deal. Every time you cart out your ezbuy prime – you pay a flat rate of $2.99 for shipping! However, don’t you jump in joy yet – you still need to factor in the agent fee and GST costs later; which I will discuss under disadvantages section point (1).
(3) Best for business owners
It works well if you are a business owner and you ship in your goods regularly from Taobao and sell it to the local market. You need to order in bulk and need the assurance of a flat shipping fee so as not to inflate your operational costs and overheads. There are many Singaporeans who work on such basis to earn a passive income; and they rely on a pool of customers who have not heard of shopping on Taobao. Many of the sellers resell these items iin their blogshops, Qoo10 or Carousell. However, with the popularity of people getting to learn about shopping on Taobao, the business of buying goods from Taobao and resell it to other people may be a dying trend.
(4) Great to combine shipping with friends
You may have heard about car pool with a few families, but have you heard of shipping pool? It is a great idea if you are able to share one Ezbuy prime account with many colleagues, friends and family. That means your yearly subscription of $99 will be well worth the money spent because you share the subscription fee and redistribute the buys to your colleagues, friends and family. This system will only work if you don’t mind letting the main account owner know what items you are buying and the members of the group are prompt in paying and collecting their purchases. However, it would be an issue if you have people who kept on delaying their payment to you or leaving their (bulky) item in your house or office uncollected.
(5) Allow you to import “restricted” items
If you shop at Taobao often enough, you will realise that not all items are accepted by TIPF. Some of these items need to go through the “sensitive shipping route” and these include items such as flammable products (birthday candles), toys with batteries and fragile items (wall mirrors) etc. You will realise these items cannot be carted out on Taobao when they tell you such an item cannot be forwarded to your country. You may need to harness Ezbuy ship-for-me or Prime to order these items.
Ezbuy Prime is not an ideal solution for all; there are disadvantages using it as well.
Disadvantages of Ezbuy Prime
(1) Not just $2.99
I think the greatest difference between using TIPF and EP is that there are much more hidden costs in Ezbuy Prime that you may not be aware of.
For Taobao International Parcel Forwarding, you pay the shipping costs according to weight and an addition of 3% credit card surcharge (if you are paying using credit card). The current rate for DEX (the provider with the lowest rate) is 26 RMB (for the 1st kg) and 9 RMB (for subsequent 500 g). Each shipment allows a maximum of 20 orders; these would be packed together; shipped and delivered to your doorstep.
For Ezbuy Prime, you need to pay the following;
- 5 day subscription fee of $9.90 OR yearly subscription fee of $99 (works out to be $8.25/mth)
- One time checkout fee of $2.99
- 4% agent fee
- 7% GST for the goods (chargeable even if the value of goods fall below $400)
- Home delivery charges at $8 (or free if you can go to Ezbuy collection spots to queue up and collect your parcel)
Assuming you combine your shipment (estimated $200 worth of goods) and cart out once a month. You would be paying $8.25 (subscription) +$2.99 (check-out fee) +$8 (agent fee) and $14 (GST) + $8 (home delivery). It sums up to $41.24.
Let’s work the math backwards; if you have carted out using TIPF, take away 3% credit card surcharge, you pay $40 for your shipment. And that translates to (assume 1st 1 kg = 26 rmb; $5.31 and subsequent 500 g at 9 rmb;$1.84), you would be able to pay for the shipping of same amount of goods at 10.4kg.
So, from the above calculation, if you buy >10 kg of goods on a monthly basis, it is more economical to ship in using Ezbuy Prime. If you don’t, you are better off sticking to Taobao International Parcel Forwarding.
(2) Not all items are available
Some items are not listed on Ezbuy Prime. Even if you do find the item you want, you may be restricted to one or a few sellers. If you are so used to shopping freely on the Taobao platform, this may put you off a little. For those items not available on EP, you can get it using the TIPF or Ezbuy Ship-for-me. When you wait to accumulate enough items in your shopping cart and pay for the items a few days later; you may run the risk that one of your purchases is already out of stock even though you have paid Ezbuy Prime. This is lesser of an occurrence when you are using Taobao platform as they are more up-to-date on their stock and the system will reject your payment if it is no longer available.
(3) Slight difference in pricing
Truth be told, not all items are priced equal at Ezbuy Prime. There are slight differences due to fluctuating exchange rates. And usually, EP prices are a little higher. For example, I was charged SGD 30.67 for a pair of bookends I bought on EP. And when I check the same Taobao seller listing, the price is 138 rmb (SGD 28.20). I assume EP will mark up the pricing for bulky items to offset the extra shipping they would need to pay. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been profitable for them to operate the business in the long run.
(4) Communication with seller is absent
Most of the Taobao sellers respond rather quickly to your online enquiries and are generally quite helpful. This will put a good test to their service and willingness to help you with refund if your item is damaged during shipping. When you cart out on TIPF, you are able to leave a note to remind the seller on the terms you have agreed on. You are also given an order number in which you can track the exact location of the parcel.
When your order is out of stock, the Taobao seller will message you to see if you wish to replace the same item with other colour or another item with similar value. This communication may be absent on Prime since Ezbuy is the one handling all your orders.
(5) Tempt you to buy more (bulky) things
Ezbuy prime will hurt those who have no self control in their shopping sprees. Some may have the mentality that the shipping fee is a flat rate, therefore they choose to buy bulkier items even though they may have no use for it.
Imagine yourself shipping 20 kg of items on a weekly basis; it will be just a matter of time when you run out of space in your apartment and have to throw out your existing items to make room for the new ones which are coming in.
(6) Options for payment can be frustrating
There are 3 options for payment on Ezbuy – internet banking, Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and credit card (3% surcharge applies). I would say that internet banking is by far the most convenient option for most people. One of the most frustrating issues with the use of internet banking for Ezbuy – they require you to manually imput the transaction number and notify you a few hours later whether they have received your transfer. The few hours of delay could mean that some of your purchases may be out of stock by the time Ezbuy starts to place your order.
What about shipping?
Both shipment would arrive in a matter of 5-7 working days from the time the parcel leaves the Chinese warehouse. The timing for shipping varies and is dependent on whether it is peak season (Chinese New Year or Double 11 Singles’ Day) or off-peak season.
A bonus point for Ezbuy is they allow you to select the date and time for home delivery. You can schedule for night time delivery between 630 pm – 1030 pm. Another popular option is to pick up your parcel at Ezbuy designated collection points; commonly MRT stations.
There is no option to select delivery time for TIPF – so you need to make sure there is someone to collect the parcel in the daytime (they don’t do night time deliveries).
So TIPF or EP? Which works better?
Considering the pros and cons of each shipping method, I would think that it is not worthwhile for me to pay the yearly $99 subscription fee because it would encourage me to keep buying items every month. It would make sense if you are a heavy shopper, own a business shipping in Taobao products on a regular basis or have a group of friends/colleagues to chip in to share one Ezbuy Prime account. I prefer to shop freely on the Taobao platform, instead of restricting myself to Prime shop. I also do not like the idea of accumulating 20 items in my shopping cart for one week and constantly reminding myself to hunt for more because you are charged a flat rate for each check out. In the end, you may spend more than what you intended to and end up with a lot of items you have no use for.
Ezbuy Prime will come in handy when I need to ship in something bulky and I forsee I have more than 10 kg of items in my shopping cart. That way, I will just pay a 5 day subscription fee of $9.90.