Have you been researching how to make money with dropshipping? If so, you have probably come across AliExpress.
It’s one of the most recommended marketplaces for dropshippers if you read online tutorials and dropshipping blogs. But is it safe and reliable, and how can you avoid problems when using it?
If you are a private consumer buying from AliExpress, you may also be interested in finding out whether you can trust it. After all, the prices seem so much cheaper than Amazon and eBay that it makes you wonder how legit it is.
Read on for the full scoop on AliExpress. After scrolling through this article, you’ll know exactly why AliExpress is cheap, whether it’s safe to use, and how to avoid scams when buying AliExpress products.
AliExpress is an online marketplace for buyers and sellers. It’s kind of like Amazon, but it’s a lot cheaper (I’ll explain why in a moment).
Most sellers on AliExpress are located in China, with many other sellers in other Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Pakistan. That’s why shipping can take longer than it would on Amazon.
Nevertheless, you can find awesome deals on AliExpress, which is why so many dropshippers choose it as their source of goods.
Because products are so affordable on AliExpress, many dropshippers flip them and sell them on Amazon and eBay. Using the dropshipping model, however, you don’t have to ship them to your house first.
Instead, you only buy them after an order comes in from your online store or eBay shop. Once you get an order, you go to AliExpress and place the order, entering your customer’s details and shipping address at checkout.
The AliExpress seller then sends the product directly to your buyer. Many AliExpress sellers encourage dropshipping, so they don’t mind that you’re doing this — they’re just happy they got another sale.
Your buyer will be none the wiser, especially if the AliExpress seller supports dropshipping and doesn’t include any packaging indicating the product was sold on AliExpress. Since you can set the price higher on your store or eBay, you’ll earn a markup from each sale, without any upfront investment.
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Yes, AliExpress is legit. It’s a legitimate company, owned by Alibaba Group, a multinational corporation.
AliExpress is just one of the eCommerce marketplaces owned and operated by Alibaba Group. It also runs Tmall, Alibaba, and Taobao.
Alibaba is the largest B2B eCommerce marketplace in the world, and Tmall is the largest B2C marketplace. Alibaba Group itself is one of the top 10 corporations in the world in terms of company value.
So, you can be sure that AliExpress is legit. It’s not a scam — but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful when using AliExpress.
Why? It’s pretty simple.
While the platform itself is 100 percent legit, not every seller will be operating in good faith. Remember, AliExpress is like eBay.
eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, AliExpress, and other marketplaces come with the same issues. Sometimes, you’ll come across a seller who messes up.
That’s why these platforms usually have safeguards in place to help you avoid scams, such as seller profile reviews.
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That’s a whole other story, as it depends on the seller.
Some sellers are 100 percent reliable. On the flip side, some sellers aren’t that reliable, and they may send you a defective or low-quality product, or they may never ship the item out at all.
Sometimes, reliability is affected not by the seller but by the shipping company they choose. Since most products are coming in from far away, there are more opportunities for mess-ups, especially if the product gets transferred from one shipping agency to another, as often happens with international shipping.
Also, products can get caught up in customs. That is something that nobody can control, not you or the seller, even if they are 100 percent reliable.
While customs control does not usually hold onto products for more than 10 days, even if it does need to double-check a product, it sometimes mismanages things. It’s not unheard of for items to get stuck in customs for weeks or months, which can be a total nightmare — but that is still rare.
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If AliExpress is legit, why is it so cheap? Surely, it sounds too good to be true?
AliExpress sellers are able to supply products at lower costs for three simple reasons. Let’s discuss them.
AliExpress sellers are often the original manufacturers of the products. AliExpress is essentially Alibaba, but for individual buyers.
Alibaba is a B2B marketplace, as I mentioned earlier. That means it’s for manufacturers to sell products in bulk to buyers, who then resell them in a physical store, on their Shopify store, or on Amazon.
AliExpress is similar, but it’s for manufacturers who are willing to sell products in quantities of one or two. It’s a B2C marketplace that gives you the opportunity to buy products from manufacturers for dirt cheap, without any markup, and without purchasing a lot of them at once.
If you buy a product on Amazon, on the other hand, you aren’t always buying from the manufacturer. Oftentimes, you are getting it from a reseller, who already put a markup on the price for their own profit.
Many items on AliExpress are cheap because they are entirely unbranded. Branded products cost more because people are willing to pay more for them.
Someone might spend a lot on a Gucci purse, not because the purse itself is worth that much, but because having a Gucci purse is a status symbol. Others enjoy wearing branded t-shirts, caps, shoes, etc. — for example, many people buy only Nike shoes.
However, products that are unbranded and generic, or even those that are from an unknown, small brand, tend to cost less. That doesn’t mean they are bad — often, the quality is just as good, but not as many people want them.
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As I already mentioned, most products on AliExpress are shipped from abroad. Because they still need to be imported, they cost less.
It costs money to import products, especially if you’re buying in bulk. You need to pay for transportation, warehouse storage, insurance, and more.
Amazon sellers who buy in bulk have a lot of overhead costs, so they add a higher markup to their products to compensate for those costs and maintain their profits.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to take care of those expenses in their place. Since you’re selling products one at a time and not making any bulk purchases, your costs won’t be as high — you’ll only need to pay for shipping (and many products come with free shipping).
When searching, you may be able to filter for products that come from a specific country, allowing you to find those with lower prices.
We’ve established that AliExpress is legit, but that some sellers may not be reliable. So, how can you stay safe when using AliExpress, avoid scams, and protect the reputation of your own business?
Here are nine tips to keep safe when using AliExpress.
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It is critical to choose who you buy from with care. By reviewing each buyer’s profile, you can determine whether they are trustworthy and reliable.
What should you look for? Here are several clues that can help you ascertain if the buyer is dependable:
- Check the percentage of positive feedback. If negative feedback accounts for over 1-2 percent of all feedback, stay away.
- See how many followers the account has. The more, the better.
- Find out how long the store has been open on AliExpress. Avoid new stores, as they don’t have a track record. Work with stores and sellers that have been operating for at least 1-2 years.
- Look at the detailed seller ratings for Communication, Shipping Speed, and Item as Described.
All that information is visible without visiting the seller’s profile; just hover your mouse over the seller’s name at the top of the product page to reveal it.
By going to the seller’s store and heading to the Feedback section, you’ll discover even more pertinent data. Here are some things worth analyzing:
- The positive feedback rate for the past one month, three months, and six months. If it’s been deteriorating, don’t buy — that particular store might have gone downhill.
- The number of negative reviews (1- or 2-star reviews) left in the time periods mentioned above.
- The actual reviews. Read them! They might come in an assortment of languages, so use Google Translate. (In the screenshot below, some reviews are in Portuguese). You want to find out why those who reviewed the seller negatively did so.
- How the seller responded to reviews, especially negative reviews. If they replied, it will show up as “Seller’s Reply” under a review, as you can see in the screenshot below.
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It’s also important to check reviews for the individual product in question. A seller might have dozens or hundreds of products, and all of them may be excellent except for one or two.
You’ll find them under the Customer Reviews tab on the product page. Scroll down a bit if you don’t see that.
It’s also worth looking at how many reviews the product has. Just because a product has zero or few reviews, that does not mean it is bad.
Nonetheless, I’d advise not risking it. Preferably, stick to buying items that have at least a few dozen reviews, almost all of which should be positive.
Products that have had more sales tend to be more reliable, too. You can filter for those types of products in the search results.
AliExpress has different refund schemes for different types of products and situations. If you got the wrong item, counterfeit goods, or your item didn’t come, you can open a dispute and request a refund.
However, if you bought from a seller with no reviews, they won’t care about their reputation as much, so they may not be very accommodating.
It is also important to know that some sellers participate in the AliExpress 3x money-back guarantee, which allows you to not only get a full refund in certain situations but extra money.
If you get jewelry that turns out to be counterfeit or not as described, AliExpress will give you a full refund. The seller will also pay up to two times the amount you paid for the product (not including shipping).
Put differently, if they sold you a gold necklace, but it wasn’t real gold, or if it had a brand name, but it was fake, you’re entitled to that type of compensation.
The same applies to computers and other consumer electronics. For example, if you were sold an HP computer that wasn’t actually made by HP, you can get a refund + compensation.
On the contrary, if you bought earphones or other electronics accessories and they were not genuine, AliExpress will only give you nine percent of the cost as a refund.
You can see detailed buyer protection policies for different product types here.
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Why is this important? Let’s say a seller sends a product that is a knockoff or just isn’t what you ordered (you ordered wireless earbuds, and they sent wired earphones).
If you’re dropshipping, your customer will be understandably upset. Since they’ll be under the impression that you were the one who sent them a defective, fake, or different product, they’ll blame you.
Unless you want to reveal that you’re actually using AliExpress, you’ll have to provide them with a full refund and tell them to keep the product. Returning the product will be complicated without revealing that you ordered the product through AliExpress.
Since the customer paid more for the product than what you did, issuing them a full refund won’t just obliterate your profits from the sale. It will take money straight out of your pocket.
If you sell products that are eligible for the 3x money-back guarantee, however, not only will you not lose money, but you will even earn some money. You can use that extra money to give your irate customer a coupon code to use for a future discount to keep them satisfied and avoid negative reviews.
You can always open a dispute to get a refund, regardless of which product you bought.
A quick note: I don’t recommend revealing that you’re using AliExpress. Some customers will understand, but many will become upset.
Nobody wants to feel dumb or cheated, and many customers might feel that way if they find out you ordered a product for $5 and sold it to them for $10 when they could have just bought it from AliExpress themselves.
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If you do open a dispute with a seller for whatever reason, don’t close it! Sellers will often ask you to do so under various pretenses.
Sometimes, they’ll say that you can always open it up again, but they may never resolve the issue. By the time you want to dispute the sale again, you’ll find that your buyer protection has expired.
At other times, they’ll be even more clever and say that they’ll refund you on PayPal if you close the dispute. Here’s where the scam comes into play — on PayPal, they can issue a chargeback for the refund they sent you.
If you didn’t actually pay for the product with PayPal, the “refund” they’re issuing you isn’t technically a refund. Instead, it’s a payment, supposedly, for some product you are sending them.
At least, that’s how PayPal sees it. PayPal doesn’t know what you did on AliExpress, and it isn’t really their business.
That allows the seller to issue a chargeback for the “refund” due to “not receiving the goods or products” you supposedly promised to sell them. As far as PayPal is concerned, if you can’t show them a tracking number and that you shipped a product, the other party has a valid claim.
At that point, you’ll lose the refund money, and your buyer protection period may have expired (your order details page will tell you how long the buyer’s protection lasts). You can ask the seller to extend the buyer’s protection before it expires, but if they’re trying to scam you, they’ll decline.
Some sellers will ask you for extra money after you’ve already paid for the product and perhaps even shipping. They’ll say that they can’t send it out due to a lack of funds.
Refuse to send them extra money. If shipping was free, don’t pay for shipping.
Instead, if your product doesn’t come during the specified shipping time, open a dispute.
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Some shady sellers will try to get you to send them the money outside the AliExpress system. For example, they might ask you to send it via Western Union.
Hopefully, you can understand why paying off the AliExpress platform and communicating via third-party channels (such as WhatsApp) are bad ideas. It will make it harder to win a dispute on AliExpress; in general, sellers who ask for that tend to be up to no good.
In the US, we’re used to using the imperial system — feet, inches, miles, etc. In most of the rest of the world, on the other hand, people use the metric system — meters, centimeters, millimeters, kilometers.
Why is this important?
Remember that most sellers are located in other parts of the world — few AliExpress shops are located in the US. If a certain measurement is specified, don’t assume it is in inches or feet automatically — dig a little deeper.
Otherwise, you may end up with a product that is much smaller than what you thought you were getting.
When relisting AliExpress products on your store or on eBay, convert the measurements from the metric to the imperial system first if you will be selling to US customers.
A common AliExpress scam involves the seller providing a bogus tracking number. The number might not be nonexistent; instead, it might be a number that pertains to another delivery, sent to another customer.
Put differently, the seller might be giving the same number to multiple buyers.
You won’t necessarily notice this scam at first when checking the tracking number. You might realize only later that the product is being sent to a random location or country nowhere near you.
It’s important to check the tracking number, so you can open a dispute when you don’t get your product. Sometimes, the seller will offer a refund via PayPal, which opens you up to the same type of scam I talked about earlier.
To avoid shady sellers who pull tricks like this, you need to check reviews carefully. It’s normal for sellers to have a few negative reviews here and there.
What you want to look for are negative reviews mentioning shady scams like this one or a pattern of bad behavior. If the seller has pulled a scam before, they’ll do it again.
By filtering for products that only have 4-star reviews or more, you can filter out a lot of junk quickly.
Many products will have free shipping. However, it might be a good idea to pay a bit extra for faster shipping with a company like DHL or FedEx instead of letting the seller send the item through their local post office.
An international company like DHL tends to be more reliable at protecting items, not losing them, and getting them to their destinations quicker. As a dropshipper, it’s worth paying more to keep your customers satisfied.
As you can see in the screenshot above, a couple of extra bucks can also get your item delivered a month earlier.
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Yes, AliExpress is generally safe to use. While other excellent options exist as well, many dropshippers start off using AliExpress, with great success.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to be aware of common scams and know how to spot a shady seller. If you’re buying stuff on AliExpress for personal use, you might be able to afford to lose $10 on a bad purchase.
However, if you run a dropshipping business, you can’t afford that, so be more selective with which sellers you buy from.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.