TaobaoFocus is a 3rd party agent that lets customers from outside China buy from the Taobao website (part of the Alibaba group). TaobaoFocus's advertised service fee is 10% of the purchase price; it's a reasonable fee although no longer competitive compared with newer agents now offering 5% or no service charges.
The sting is that TaobaoFocus calculates costs in Chinese yuan (RMB or CNY), but then adds almost 13% in hidden commission on top of the average interbank exchange rate to convert from Chinese yuan to US dollars. What's more, although the TaobaoFocus website and their payment system state that payment will be made in US dollars, their backend payment system is Russian-based and actually takes payment in Russian roubles! This obviously incurs extra bank charges to convert US dollars to their Russian roubles. TaobaoFocus acknowledge that this is a frequent problem, but accept no responsibility for their payment system overcharging customers.
I've asked for the e-mail address of their CEO to complain, but have been told that this is all my fault. It is my fault that their Ruskie payment system took payment in an entirely unexpected and unauthorised currency and they claim that I could have prevented this by not paying. Duh!
To sum up, TaobaoFocus's charges are:
Service charges of 10% of the purchase price with a minimum fee of 35RMB
16.5RMB per seller Domestic shipping fee to repack the goods ready for export
8RMB per shipment to fill in the Customs declaration form
Shipping fees as per their schedule according to the parcel weight
Around 13% commission on the interbank exchange rate to convert from RMB to USD.
Overseas payment fees of around 3% charged by your bank to convert USD to RUB.
TaobaoFocus may also change your chosen method of delivery from China Post Air Mail to EMS. This has the effect of adding £5.50 to the customs clearance fee - £13.50 with Parcelforce as opposed to £8 with Royal Mail and also means that on gift shipments you are no longer exempt from paying 20% VAT on the value of the shipping as well as on the value of the goods.
Unfortunately Taobao World (similar to eBay's Global Shipping Program) do not ship to the UK at the moment, so are there any honest and fair alternatives?