I've been asked several times for a Taobao guide, so here's some basic tips.
1: Understand that Taobao is not like Ebay or Amazon.
And, in order to understand that...
2: Understand what Taobao listings are and aren't.
Taobao listings may not be selling what the title or price suggests. Many listings are for several items, or are simply adverts for the seller's store.
Here's an example of a 'display' listing. Easy to spot for two reasons, first the crazy high price, and secondly this one usefully has the word 'display' in the title. You'll also see these with impossibly low or 'lucky number' prices too.
3: Use Google Chrome to browse.
Firstly, Chrome has a built in translator. Never rely on this, but you can use it for guidance. And secondly and more importantly, Chrome will warn you of pages containing malware. Sometimes the malware warnings will just be related to where the image is hosted, but best to be safe.
4: Be suspicious.
If it's too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you see a super limited doll or dress for a nice price? Either it's a fake, or they are selling you a shopping service and it's just a deposit for them to possibly go and buy it. I'd recommend people new to Taobao only to buy from power sellers, until you get a feel for it. Power sellers have jewels or crowns next to their names.
5: Check reviews because images lie.
A lot of listings will use photos of what the seller wants their item to look like, rather than the real thing. This is sometimes easy to spot, sometimes not. I generally presume most Taobao images have been yanked from somewhere else. Fortunately, Taobao gives users the ability to add images to reviews, so clicking on the review tab may give you a chance to see real photos.
6: Understand why you need an agent.
You need an agent because Taobao doesn't work on a straightforward shopping cart system, it works on chat between seller and buyer. Your agent will do this for you, and will let you know if anything differs from the listing, such as colours, stock levels, and so on. My agent often comes back to me with photos of the actual item that the listing didn't include, and so on. Also, even if you could communicate with the seller, if you are not in China they will not want to ship directly to you.
7: Find a good agent and use a credit card.
I've only ever used Yoybuy, so I can't comment on other agents. My experience with them has been really good, no hidden charges or unwanted substitutions. If you have a credit card, I would highly recommend using it over Paypal, as you'll get more protection if things go pear shaped.
Here is my affiliate link for Yoybuy, if you want to support me while you shop :)
Yoybuy taobao agent
I hope this short guide helps, I'll be posting more Taobao stuff soon!