Taobao is like a Chinese version of eBay, except with unique Chinese features. No effort at localization is made. It’s in Chinese only. You can buy an incredible variety of products there. Unfortunately, as is often the case when buying things online in China, you still have to go somewhere and fill out a form and get it stamped and usually make a phone call before the deal is actually done. If you’re interested, there’s an entire field guide (in English) devoted to using Taobao.

Wow, this sounds like a hassle already. Why bother? You can buy good stuff for really cheap. Much cheaper than retail here in Beijing, or probably anywhere in China. Retail overhead is high, and margins are fat, and Taobao cuts out at least some of the middlemen.

Unfortunately, there’s a loophole. There is apparently no listing fee. Merchants specializing in PA equipment and DJ gear have responded by posting enormous catalogs comprising virtually every audio product ever made, all at incredibly low “too good to be true” prices. Of course, you have to call them first to “verify inventory,” and then they just try to upsell you to whatever they have in their inventory, since they don’t actually have the product you wanted. Classic “bait and switch.” And hey, if they get away with it, they got a sale, so everyone’s happy. Right?

Hopefully Taobao does something to regulate this activity soon. From my perspective, an online catalog of products you can’t actually buy (and are listed at bogus prices) is just a colossal waste of time.