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 owned by the Alibaba Group which is one of the largest ecommerce companies in the world. Whereas Alibaba caters to businesses, AliExpress was launched in 2010 to serve as an online company selling Chinese products direct to consumers.
However, AliExpress does not carry its own products. Instead, AliExpress is a marketplace that allows independent small businesses and factories in China to sell direct to individual customers worldwide.
It’s also interesting to note that mainland Chinese citizens cannot purchase products directly from AliExpress. Instead, native Chinese citizens must shop on a completely separate marketplace.
In any case, the closest, comparable marketplace to AliExpress is Ebay. And like Ebay, AliExpress offers a huge variety of products that span pretty much anything you can think of.
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
Because Alibaba and AliExpress are both part of the same company, people often get the 2 mixed up but they offer significantly different services.
Below is a summary of the characteristics of Alibaba vs AliExpress.
How Alibaba Works
First off, 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 directory of Chinese manufacturers.
In addition, Alibaba is designed for wholesale sales which means that you can not order single unit quantities of any product. 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.
But this flexibility comes at a cost. When buying from a factory on Alibaba, you always have to purchase a minimum order quantity which means that you pay upfront for a bulk quantity of your goods.
Often times, your initial outlay can be in the thousands of dollars but the unit price is almost always significantly lower than the prices you’ll find on AliExpress.
You also can not order directly through the Alibaba website. In most cases, you’ll need to submit a request to your supplier stating what you want to buy and there’s some amount of back and forth until you’ve agreed on a price and shipping terms.
In fact, most correspondence with Alibaba suppliers occurs offline as opposed to on the Alibaba platform.
How AliExpress Works
Meanwhile, AliExpress is a completely different beast. As mentioned earlier, AliExpress is a marketplace where consumers can buy products from small businesses in China directly.
As a result, AliExpress is 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 onesie twosie quantities, it requires a much lower cash outlay 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. But 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.
Alibaba vs AliExpress Summary
Bottom line, if you are looking to private label products for sale, then stick with Alibaba as 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 small initial outlay of cash is attractive for newbie sellers and it might be a good way to dip your toes in the ecommerce waters even though AliExpress dropshipping is not a good, long term business model.
Is AliExpress Safe?
Contrary to popular belief, buying from AliExpress is very safe. In fact, it’s probably safer than shopping from Ebay because of their buyer protection program.
AliExpress guarantees that if your product doesn’t arrive on time or as described in the listing, you can get a full refund.
In fact as a buyer, you don’t have to do a thing. 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.
For the most part, 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.
Why Do AliExpress Products Have A Bad Reputation
The main reason AliExpress products carry such a bad rap is because of 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:)
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.
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!
The next step is to go shopping. Shopping on AliExpress is a lot like shopping on Ebay. Just browse for what you want and click “Add To Cart”.
Now there are a few things I look for before I buy. Remember, anyone in China can sell on AliExpress which means that there are businesses, factories and random people peddling their wares.
I prefer to 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 I pay attention to when shopping on AliExpress.
- The feedback rating of the seller. I prefer to see an average feedback rating that is above 4.5
- The number of orders a seller has shipped. I like to see at least 100 orders shipped and preferably more depending on the cost of the item.
- The number of reviews. I like to see at least 100 reviews but it depends on how cheap the item is. For cheaper products, I tend to care less.
The above ratings are just guidelines and will mitigate your chances of receiving complete junk in the mail. In general, the more money I’m spending, the more stringent my requirements with the seller.
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.
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.
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.
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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.