How to Buy Brushes on Taobao – Part 2

In Part 1, I provided a comprehensive list of Chinese makeup brush manufacturers and explained how to use the online shopping platforms Taobao & Tmall. So, be sure to look at that one first. In this post, I’ll explain how to buy brushes from Taobao & Tmall through one of the intermediary companies known as ‘TaoBao agents’. Because purchasing directly from Taobao & Tmall is restricted to consumers in China (and a few other countries), using a Taobao agent is required for everyone else.

What is the idea behind employing a Taobao agent? Imagine asking a friend who lives in China to buy some brushes on your behalf. You would provide them with a list of the brushes they needed to purchase and send them the required funds. They would then place orders using their local address, and once they got the brushes in their possession, they would repackage them and send them overseas to you. The operation of Taobao agents is the same. However, they are a business that offers this service, not your friend who would probably go through all of this hassle for nothing. So, of course, you would need to pay them an extra service fee in addition to the overall price (the service fee is typically calculated as a percentage of the total cost of the products).

But before we get into the step-by-step guide, here are some advantages and disadvantages of buying brushes through a Taobao agent in comparison to buying brushes on AliExpress, which might help you decide which one is better for you:

The advantages of buying brushes through a Taobao agent vs. buying brushes on AliExpress
  • A significant prices difference – the prices on Taobao & Tmall are around 50% lower than the prices on AliExpress.
  • Taobao & Tmall offer a wider range of brushes and brands than AliExpress (although AliExpress is catching up).
  • Brands typically launch their new brushes on Taobao & Tmall first, with AliExpress following later (if at all).
  • With a Taobao agent, you can buy brushes from multiple stores/brands over a longer period of time, and once the agent receives them in their warehouse, they can combine them and send them all to you as one package, saving you money on shipping.
  • Taobao agents speak English and can be contacted through chat to answer your questions and resolve any issues that may arise.
  • There are extra options for how you want your brushes packaged (e.g., you could ask them to discard unnecessary packaging, or you could request extra bubbles for sensitive items etc.), although these usually come at an additional cost.
  • There is the option of insuring the total value of your parcel against loss in transit or at customs (however, this is paid extra and I normally do not insure my parcels because I am willing to accept the risk).
The disadvantages of buying brushes through a Taobao agent vs. buying brushes on AliExpress
  • Taobao & Tmall are both in Chinese, making them difficult to navigate and understand if you don’t speak the language.
  • Because brushes need to be shipped twice, first locally (from each store to the agent’s warehouse in China), and then overseas (from the agent to you), there is theoretically a greater chance of something going wrong.
  • Due to numerous steps involved, it is a slower way of shopping that may take longer door-to-door. As a result, it requires a lot of patience on your part. This is not something you should try if you need brushes right away.
  • Agent fees are not exactly cheap. There is a 6% service fee, then there is a 4% money transfer fee every time you pay for something, and the exchange rates between Chinese Yuan and other currencies are also not ideal. These are all significant contributors to the overall cost of the brushes (however, since Taobao & Tmall prices are around 50% lower than AliExpress prices, you are still saving tonnes of money even when these expenses are added).
  • Finally, there are shipping costs to consider, which are usually proportional to the total parcel weight and size, and can vary greatly depending on the service you select.

Step 1 – Registration

The first step is to register with a Taobao agent, and my agent of choice is CSSBuy:

Register with CSSBuy

Step 2 – Product Selection

The second step in the process is to put the products you want CSSBuy to buy for you in the CSSBuy shopping basket. You can accomplish this in one of the two ways:

  1. Automatic – This means you simply copy the URL/link to your product on the Taobao/Tmall website, paste it into search the bar on the CSSBuy website, and hit enter on your keyboard. All the product information including the price will be automatically extracted. Click ‘Add to Cart’ and the product will be added to the shopping basket. Sometimes, a single listing on Taobao/Tmall may include multiple products or versions of the same product (e.g., with different hair types or handle colours). In that case, you must first click on the actual product (‘Color Classification’) and sometimes also on the (‘bristle material’) before you can successfully click on ‘Add to Cart’. If the product was successfully added to the basket, it will literally fly across the screen and into the basket. Check your shopping basket later to ensure the correct product was added (you can usually tell by the price).
This video demonstrates how simple it is to buy brushes from Taobao & Tmall using CSSBuy‘s automatic data extraction.
  1. Manual – This is known as ‘Expert Buy’ and it is essentially a manual method of purchasing in which you must enter all of the product information yourself. For example, you must copy-paste the URL/link to the product on Taobao, the product name, the product image from Taobao, the variant of the product (if multiple exist in the listing), and the product price. You can set the domestic shipping fee to zero, because makeup brushes typically exceed the threshold for free shipping within China. I only use this manual option when the automatic retrieval fails to retrieve product information from the Taobao website. So, it is good to be aware of this possibility.

Once you’ve added all of the items you want to buy to your shopping cart, it is wise to double-check that everything is correct, especially the product prices (as automatic retrieval can make mistakes). If the automatic retrieval is not returning the correct price, you can manually override it before adding the product to your shopping cart. When you are satisfied with your product selection in the basket and the prices appear to be correct, click ‘Pay Now’ to proceed with payment.

Step 3 – Product Payment

There are two ways to pay for the brushes:

  1. Pay using your CSSBuy account balance. This means that you must first ‘recharge’ your CSSBuy account with funds (via Paypal or card), so that in this step you simply choose to use the funds that are already in your CSSBuy account. The disadvantage of this method is that you must make educated guesses how much money to send to your CSSBuy account. If you send too little, you will have to do it again. If you send too much, some funds will remain in your CSSBuy account after you have completed all of your purchases (not a big deal if you plan to use CSSBuy in the future, but you should avoid it if it’s a one-off purchase).
  2. Pay directly using Paypal or card. This means that your Paypal or card will only be charged the amount equal to the product price (plus financial transaction fees), and those funds will be used to make payment immediately (there will be no funds left in your CSSBuy account; i.e., your account balance will be zero). I usually go with this option.
Multiple ways to pay for your order (Click for larger photo)

If the payment for products was successful – and please note this is your payment to CSSBuy, not (yet) to Taobao/Tmall – the status next to each individual brush will change from ‘Unpaid’ to ‘Pending’. The word ‘Pending’ does not imply that you must do anything; rather, it indicates that an action from CSSBuy is now pending. Option 2 may occasionally fall short, leaving your money in your CSSBuy account balance rather than being used to pay for the products. You’ll notice it by the brushes’ ‘Unpaid’ status and by checking your CSSBuy account balance and discovering that the money is there. If this occurs, you will need to select all of the products (with the ‘Unpaid’ status) and choose to pay for them again, but this time you will choose to pay with your existing balance (so you essentially do option 1). If this is successful, the brushes’ status will change from ‘Unpaid’ to ‘Pending’.

Left: Before payment to CSSBuy (‘Unpaid’ status); Right: After successful payment to CSSBuy (‘Pending’ status)

Step 4 – Waiting for Product Ordering and Local Delivery

This steps requires some waiting and patience on your part. When you pay for your products and their status changes to ‘Pending’, one of the CSSBuy employees will be assigned your order, and if sufficient funds are received, they will make purchase(s) on Taobao/Tmall for you. Once they have purchased all the products, their individual status on CCSBuy will change from ‘Pending’ to ‘Ordered’. CSSBuy, in my experience, works very quickly to do this, and I usually have my products ordered within 2 days of paying for them.

TIP: While you wait for your products to be ordered, please keep in mind the time difference between your country and China, as well as that their employees may not be working on weekends. Also, if you are ordering discounted products (during certain promotional dates on Taobao & Tmall), please order your products at least several days before the end of the promotional period. Otherwise, you risk having prices rise by the time a CSSBuy employee attempts to order these items for you. If this occurs, CSSBuy will send you a message for each affected product informing you that the product’s price has risen compared to what was specified in the basket when you paid for the basket. If you still want to order the product(s), make sure you have enough funds in your CSSBuy account, and respond with ‘YES’ within each concerned product’s chat window, which can be accessed by pressing the three dots “” next to that product and then selecting ‘Contact’.

Once the products have been ordered, as indicated by their ‘Ordered’ status, you must wait for the products to be shipped domestically (i.e., from each Taobao store to the CSSBuy warehouse). It goes without saying that the speed of each individual Taobao store will determine how quickly goods are shipped and delivered to CSSBuy. In my experience, this usually takes around 3 days, but it can take a few days longer for some stores. If you order all of your brushes from one store, they will usually arrive all at once, but if you order them from multiple stores, they may arrive on different days. CSSBuy provides domestic tracking for each brush (just click on the ‘Track my order‘ link next to each brush) so you can easily track it as it travels from the store to the CSSBuy warehouse. If you believe that a specific brush is not progressing as expected, you can always contact CSSBuy and inquire about its whereabouts (by clicking on the three dots “” next to that brush and selecting ‘Contact’ to activate the chat feature).

When the status of a brush changes from ‘Ordered’ to ‘In Warehouse’, you’ll know it has arrived. When all of the products you want to ship have arrived in the warehouse, you can begin the shipping process.

Tracking a brush domestically (from the Taobao/Tmall store to the CSSBuy Warehouse).

Step 5 – International Shipping

This is where CSSBuy combines the products they received in their warehouse, packages them, and ships them internationally to you. Of course, you can request that products be shipped in separate packages, but given the high cost of shipping, it should be the most cost effective to ship everything in one large package. I usually order and ship 10-15 brushes in a single package. Large face brushes are obviously heavier and take up more space, whereas eye brushes are smaller and a lot of them can fit into a small package. Products can stay in the warehouse for free for an extended period of time (up to 180 days), so there is no need to ship them right away, just be aware of the time constraints.

TIP: An important option to select during the shipping process is to select the ‘box’, which is not selected by default. Make certain that your brushes are shipped in a box rather than a bag or an envelope.

The shipping stage can be completed in two ways – with or without the rehearsal step:

  1. With rehearsal – With rehearsal, they put all of the brushes (and sometimes freebies sent by the store) in a box, weigh everything, and once they know the exact weight of your parcel, they can tell you what the exact shipping costs would be using various shipping providers, so you can make an informed decision. This ‘rehearsal’ option has a very small fee and you must wait a few days for them to package all of your brushes, weigh them, and get back to you with the exact cost. Then you’ll select your shipping method, fill out the customs form, and pay for it. Personally, I prefer to do the rehearsal step.
  2. Without rehearsal – If you do not select the rehearsal, they will present you with estimated shipping costs (for various shipping options) and you will pay that estimate first. That estimate is based on factors such as the official weight of each brush provided by Taobao, plus some excess for packaging. Typically, you must pay more than the actual cost, and you can specify this adjustment fee in your profile (the minimum is 50 Yuan). This adjustment fee allows them to ship your parcel quicker because they do not need to get back to you with the exact weight as they would if you chose the rehearsal process. Once they have packaged and weighed the parcel, they will know the exact cost, and they will refund any excess funds to your CSSBuy account balance.

Whether or not you go through the rehearsal process, you will always pay the same shipping fee in the end. However, if the rehearsal step is skipped, your parcel may be shipped a few days sooner. The disadvantage of skipping the rehearsal process is that you’ll inevitably have some leftover funds in your CSSBuy account balance once you receive your shipping refund. If you intend to use CSSBuy in the future, you won’t mind a small amount of money remaining in your balance. However, if you only intend to use CSSBuy once, you should go through the rehearsal process first.

An important part of the shipping process is filling out data for the customs declaration form, which includes three fields: Product name (e.g., makeup brushes), Quantity (e.g., 10), and Total Price (in USD). This will be printed and glued on the outside of the package, so do this step carefully.

Step 6 – Waaaaaaiting

After the parcel has been shipped, you simply have to wait! Needless to say, the waiting time will depend on the shipping service used and the country of destination. You will be given a tracking code and will be able to track the parcel through CSSBuy or an external tracking website. When it arrives in your country, customs clearance may also take some time.

Final Thoughts

When budgeting for your purchase, keep in mind the additional service fees and other costs that will be added on top of the listed brush prices at various stages of the process (e.g., the 4% money transfer fee is charged with each payment, while the 6% service fee is charged during the shipping stage). In the end, you won’t be able to buy brushes at a 50% discount compared to AliExpress, as you might expect when looking at those temptingly low prices on Taobao & Tmall. However, even with all of the fees you pay to the Taobao agent, the total will still be significantly less than on AliExpress. I was able to save a lot of money by switching from AliExpress to Taobao & Tmall!

If you decide to try this, my final piece of advice is to start conservatively, perhaps with a smaller or less expensive shipment, to ensure that the entire process works for you and that brushes can be safely transported to your destination country. If it works, the next time you can go all in and get all those brushes you’ve been craving for! 🙂

Note: The links included in this blog post are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and subsequently make any purchases, I may earn a small commission on those, which can help me grow my blog in the future. Thank you for your kind support!

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