AliExpress has a bad reputation for carrying cheap, worthless junk. So a common question I get asked is whether buying from AliExpress is worth it and is AliExpress safe?
If you buy from AliExpress, will you get scammed with poor quality merchandise and lose your money?
As with any online marketplace, there are always going to be unscrupulous sellers who are out to make a quick buck at the expense of the customer. But AliExpress wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t a great place to buy online.
You just have to know what you are getting into and take the proper precautions when shopping on the platform.
This guide will teach you how to buy from AliExpress safely without getting ripped off.
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What is AliExpress?
AliExpress is an online marketplace owned by the Alibaba Group that allows independent small businesses and factories in China to sell direct to individual customers worldwide.
In fact, AliExpress is known as the Ebay of China. And like Ebay, AliExpress offers a huge variety of products that span over 10,000 categories.
Because AliExpress is based in China where the cost of labor is so low, products on AliExpress tend to be significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the world including the US.
Alibaba Vs AliExpress
People often get confused between Alibaba vs AliExpress because they are owned by the same parent company. But they offer completely different services.
Below is a summary of the characteristics of Alibaba vs AliExpress.
How Alibaba Works
Alibaba is a directory of China wholesale suppliers that help businesses find manufacturers and factories in Asia.
You can not buy anything directly from the Alibaba website. It is not an ecommerce platform nor is it an ecommerce marketplace. Instead, Alibaba is primarily a searchable database of Chinese manufacturers.
In addition, Alibaba is meant for bulk purchases and you can not order single unit quantities of most products. Almost every Alibaba customer places bulk orders directly from the factory.
By placing orders with the factory directly, you can customize or personalize products for private label selling which allows you to create a unique product that no one else is selling online.
When buying from a factory on Alibaba, you have to purchase a minimum order quantity which means that you pay upfront for a bulk quantity of your goods.
Often times, your initial investment in inventory can be in the thousands of dollars but the unit price is usually significantly lower than the prices you’ll find on AliExpress.
Also unlike AliExpress, you also can not order directly through the Alibaba website. Instead, you must submit a request to your supplier stating what you want to buy and agree on a price.
Most correspondence with Alibaba suppliers occurs offline as opposed to on the Alibaba platform. For more information, read this guide on how to buy from Alibaba.
How AliExpress Works
AliExpress is an online marketplace where consumers can buy products directly from small businesses in China.
AliExpress is set up almost exactly like Ebay where you can buy products “as is” from merchants in China and you make your purchase directly on the platform.
Whereas Alibaba is meant for wholesale sales, you can purchase single unit quantities on AliExpress. And like Ebay, everything is bought and sold exactly as shown in the product listing and cannot be customized.
In other words, you can not private label goods bought from AliExpress. However, because you can buy goods in single unit quantities, you do not need a lot of money to buy from AliExpress.
Even though prices on AliExpress are low compared to the rest of the world, they will almost always be higher than if you bought a larger quantity through a supplier found on Alibaba.
In addition, you can not ask for a free sample on AliExpress if you want to examine the goods for quality before you buy. However, AliExpress offers buyer protection which mitigates the risk of receiving poor quality junk (more on this later).
It’s important to note that almost all goods bought from AliExpress are shipped from China which means that it will take weeks if not months to receive your goods. Read this post for more information on AliExpress shipping
Alibaba vs AliExpress Summary
If you are looking to private label products for sale, use Alibaba because the suppliers you’ll find on the platform will be willing to make customizations and create custom packaging for your products.
If you are looking to buy products for personal use or for dropshipping, then go with AliExpress.
The low upfront investment requirement is attractive for new sellers and you can use AliExpress dropshipping to get started in ecommerce with very little money.
Is AliExpress Safe?
Contrary to popular belief, buying from AliExpress is 100% safe. In fact, shopping on AliExpress is safer than Ebay because AliExpress offers a buyer protection program that covers every purchase end to end.
AliExpress guarantees that if your product doesn’t arrive on time or as described in the listing, you can get a full refund.
When you make a purchase on AliExpress, buyer protection is automatically applied. You are protected no matter what you buy on the platform as long as you make your purchase directly through AliExpress.
In the event that your product never arrives or is complete junk, here’s how to take advantage of buyer protection.
- You first contact AliExpress support to report the problem with your order. The seller will also be notified and has the option to rectify the situation.
- If the seller is not willing to help, then you can open a dispute with AliExpress.
- If the seller does not respond to the dispute, then AliExpress will return your money.
Once AliExpress resolves the dispute in your favor, you’ll usually get your money back within 2 weeks.
As a result, you are protected from getting shipped junk merchandise or getting outright ripped off. But the dispute process can sometimes drag on while going back and forth with the seller.
But bottom line, it is completely safe to buy from AliExpress.
Is AliExpress Legit?
AliExpress is a legitimate marketplace owned by the Alibaba Group, a publicly traded company and one of the largest ecommerce companies in the world.
The main reason people question the legitimacy of AliExpress is because they have unrealistic expectations.
When you buy from a retail store in the United States, every product goes through a rigorous quality control process before the product is placed on the shelf.
With AliExpress, you are often buying directly from the factory and there is very little quality control (depending on the supplier). As a result, it can sometimes be a crap shoot what you’ll actually receive in the mail.
There is no recognizable brand and the standards of quality are often different from what you expect. Even worse, you might get sent counterfeit or knock off products in the mail:)
Incidentally, this is why AliExpress Dropshipping is not a good long term business model. The combination of quality control problems, long shipping times and customer support make this an unattractive business to run.
But that being said, there are many great products to be had on AliExpress. You just have to wade through the rough to find the diamonds:)
Is It Safe To Buy Electronics On AliExpress
Because of buyer protection, it is 100% safe to buy electronics on AliExpress. However, the overall quality of the software and the hardware will be worse than in the United States or Europe.
The standards of quality for electronics is lower in China and computer devices are often buggy and not designed to last the test of time.
How To Buy From AliExpress Safely Without Getting Ripped Off
Here’s a step by step guide on how to make your first purchase from AliExpress and what to look out for.
Step 1: Create An AliExpress Account
First off, you need to create an account on AliExpress. Go to Aliexpress.com and click on the sign up button.
After you signup and confirm your email address, AliExpress will usually give you a bonus coupon for new users. I got $2 off which doesn’t sound like a lot but remember, stuff is cheap on the platform!
Step 2: Go Shopping
Shopping on AliExpress is a lot like shopping on Ebay. Just browse for what you want and click “Add To Cart”.
There are a few things you should look out for before you buy. Remember, anyone in China can sell on AliExpress which means that there are businesses, factories and random people peddling their wares.
You should buy from sellers that have shipped many orders and look legit.
Note: This is very similar to Ebay where you can look at a seller’s feedback score.
Here are the stats you should pay attention to when shopping on AliExpress.
- The feedback rating of the seller. Look for an average feedback rating that is above 4.5
- The number of orders a seller has shipped. Make sure the seller has at least 100 orders shipped and preferably more depending on the cost of the item.
- The number of reviews. The product should have at least 100 reviews but it depends on how cheap the item is. If you don’t mind taking a risk on a cheap product, the number of reviews doesn’t matter.
The above ratings are just guidelines and will mitigate your chances of receiving complete junk in the mail. In general, the more money you are spending, the more stringent your requirements should be with the seller.
Step 3: Check The Trademark Database
To know if a product is trademarked on AliExpress, you must check the USPTO trademark database to avoid legal troubles when buying and selling AliExpress merchandise.
Simply go on the USPTO website and type in the brand. If the brand appears on the USPTO website, the brand is trademarked.
In general, most name brand merchandise sold on AliExpress is counterfeit. As a result, if you see brands like Nike, Apple, Gucci, the product is most likely fake.
If the product has an obscure brand you’ve never heard of, check the trademark database to make sure you are not violating any trademarks if you plan on reselling the product online.
Step 4: Check AliExpress Delivery Times
Most products are shipped from China but sometimes if you’re lucky, you’ll find an item that can be shipped from a local distributor in your country.
In my experience, this is rare but there are many higher volume listings that fall under this criteria.
The handkerchiefs I’m buying in the example above are shipped out of China and here are the shipping options and costs.
Today is October 27 which means that the shipping time is around 28 days for the cheapest shipping option but I can get my hankies within 2 weeks if I pay a little more.
Overall, I’ve seen shipping times as short as 2 weeks or as long as 2 months. It really depends on where you live and the speed of the seller in getting your products out the door.
When it comes to buyer protection, the delivery guarantee always lasts to the last day of the published estimated delivery time. In the example above, if I don’t receive my hankies by November 23, I can get my money back.
Step 5: Check AliExpress Payment Methods
Once you’re ready to checkout, click on the “checkout” button and fill out your billing and shipping information.
There are 3 main ways to pay on AliExpress, credit card, Paypal and iDeal.
Most of you probably have no idea what iDeal is so stick with Paypal and credit cards.
Typically, I’ll pay via credit card because I get points and I have the option of disputing a payment in the event that AliExpress buyer protection redemption takes too long.
No matter whether you choose to pay by Paypal or credit card, you’re protected either way. And between AliExpress buyer protection and Paypal/Credit card, there is practically zero risk of outright fraud.
Step 6: Check Your AliExpress Order Right Away
Because shipping from China takes a long time, you might forget about your AliExpress order by the time it arrives. But as soon as you receive it, you MUST check for quality problems right away.
Remember, buyer protection only lasts for the duration of the delivery window. In the handkerchief example above, I have until November 23rd to file a dispute.
So if it arrives on exactly November 23rd, I have to file a dispute that day!
Make sure that you examine your goods with a fine tooth comb and take action immediately if you are shipped junk. Otherwise, you may have to resort to filing a dispute with Paypal or your credit card company.
AliExpress’s poor reputation mostly stems from unrealistic expectations. As long you aren’t expecting “superior” quality products, you should be happy with your AliExpress purchases overall.
Remember, you won’t find well known and recognizable brands on AliExpress and if you do, chances are it is counterfeit.
The best way to think about AliExpress is that it’s similar to shopping on Ebay except all of the products are unbranded.
The AliExpress marketplace is composed of a random mix of individuals, small businesses and factories selling their goods online.
Between AliExpress buyer protection and Paypal/Credit Card protection, there is practically zero chance of getting ripped off and losing your money.
But quality control can definitely be a problem. After all, there’s only so much information a product listing image can convey.
When it comes to shopping on AliExpress, go with your instincts and don’t buy something if it sounds too good to be true because it probably is.
Related Posts In How To Find Products To Sell
- Best 29 Wholesale Clothing Vendors In Los Angeles And The LA Fashion District
- Why Buying Wholesale Can Be Misleading
- 7 Best Places To Sell Jewelry To Start A Jewelry Business
- Is AliExpress Safe And How To Avoid Getting Scammed
- Is Alibaba Legit And Safe? 4 Proven Ways To Avoid Scams
Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
He's also a contributing author for BigCommerce, Klaviyo, ManyChat, Printful, Privy, CXL, Ecommerce Fuel, GlockApps, Privy, Social Media Examiner, Web Designer Depot, Sumo and other leading business publications.
In addition, he runs a popular ecommerce podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, which is a top 25 marketing show on all of Apple Podcasts.
To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.