What AliExpress is and How to Save Money

Last updated: April 18, 2017 - 4:17pm EDT

If you're into wholesale goods -- products straight from the manufacturer that skip the retail middleman -- then AliExpress.com is a website that you should know about.  It's one of the largest wholesaling platforms on the Internet, with numerous manufacturers in China signed up to offer you direct-to-consumer goods at matching prices.  That could save you some serious money.

So what exactly is AliExpress?

AliExpress is an e-commerce website that allows international buyers to purchase items from wholesale retailers in mainland China and have them delivered to you through common international courier services.  It is popular in Russia, but it also ships to 200 countries and regions worldwide.

Where did AliExpress come from, and why is it so popular?

AliExpress is an offshoot of the Alibaba Group, which was founded in 1999 by Chinese businessman Jack (Yun) Ma. Ma originally created the company as an online portal for Chinese manufacturers to make business deals with overseas retailers, which is by-and-large what it still does today.  He named the company after Ali Baba, the legendary hero of Arabic folklore, citing his benevolence as a merchant and his ability to be recognized across nations and cultures through various adaptations of The 1001 Nights.

AliExpress itself was launched in 2010 as a portal for Chinese manufacturers to sell their wares directly to individual consumers, as opposed to retail companies for resale.  Its popularity stems from the fact that its users can buy products directly from the Chinese factories that make them, rather than from retail outlets that would otherwise buy and then re-sell these products at increased costs.  Therefore, people who use the platform often save quite a bit of money on their purchases.

How does AliExpress work?

If you're going to be using AliExpress, chances are that you will be doing so as a buyer, since you have to live in Hong Kong or mainland China to use it as a seller (at least for right now).  There are all sorts of categories of merchandise that you can buy on AliExpress, direct from Chinese manufacturers and often at below-market prices.  (We'll explain some of them in detail later.)  You can browse to your heart's content, or search for something specific.

Browsing the AliExpress item categories

While you'll likely already be getting low prices by buying direct from Chinese manufacturers, you can save even more money with coupons.  Some vendors will give out coupons to be used on purchases specifically from their store.  Other coupons will be given out during promotions by AliExpress itself, which you can add to your account and then use on any eligible purchase later.

Finding an AliExpress seller coupon
(Image source: AliExpress)

Once you've ordered something, you may be curious as to when your order will arrive.  Fortunately, AliExpress provides you with tracking information for your package from the courier that is handling it.  That way, you can know approximately how close your order is to arriving on your doorstep!

Getting tracking information for your AliExpress order
(Image source: AliExpress)

If your order doesn't turn out right -- or come at all -- AliExpress has you covered.  You can open a dispute with a seller and send AliExpress evidence of your plight.  You may be entitled to at least a partial refund... or maybe even a full one!

Example of an AliExpress returns policy

Finally, if you have a question about how to use some facet of AliExpress, you can usually get a hold of a customer service representative via online chat.  You can also submit detailed complaints against sellers whom you believe break the rules of AliExpress.

How to contact AliExpress customer service

What to buy from AliExpress

AliExpress is a general online marketplace, so you can buy a number of different things there.  You can get clothes, accessories, electronics, toys, sports equipment, furniture, office supplies, and more!  Just remember that you're shopping for low prices, so don't expect too many recognizable brand names.

Here's a list of the categories of items that you can buy on AliExpress:

  • Women's Clothing & Accessories

  • Men's Clothing & Accessories

  • Phones & Telecommunications

  • Computer & Office

  • Consumer Electronics

  • Jewelry & Accessories

  • Home & Garden

  • Luggage & Bags

  • Shoes

  • Mother & Kids

  • Sports & Entertainment

  • Health & Beauty

  • Watches

  • Toys & Hobbies

  • Weddings & Events

  • Novelty & Special Use

  • Automobiles & Motorcycles

  • Lights & Lighting

  • Furniture

  • Electronic Components & Supplies

  • Office & School Supplies

  • Home Improvement

  • Food

  • Security & Protection

Is AliExpress legal and safe?

AliExpress is run by one of the largest Internet (and retail) companies in the world, the Alibaba Group, so it's definitely legal. It has several buyer protection policies that you can take advantage of, and it monitors its users carefully to weed out sellers (or buyers) involved in any sort of shady dealings.

Despite all this, people can be (and have been) scammed or defrauded on AliExpress, which frankly is a danger with any business deal (especially one conducted online).  This isn't necessarily the fault of AliExpress, though; it's just a platform for processing transactions.  The real fault lies with users who buy or sell with dishonest intentions.  Here's some advice on how to avoid those kinds of people.

First, only buy from sellers that have relatively favourable ratings scores and product reviews.  Second, beware of buying items with "too good to be true" prices (i.e. over 30% lower than elsewhere on AliExpress or other e-commerce sites), especially if they claim to be from popular brand names.  Third, never give a seller your personal or financial information (including your account details), either through direct communication or logging into a third-party website.  Fourth, always use the secure payment system built into AliExpress to pay one of its sellers.  And finally, never confirm the delivery of an order from a seller before you actually receive and are satisfied with the item(s).

Why should (or shouldn't) I use AliExpress?

The main reason why you'd want to shop with AliExpress is its prices.  You're buying directly from Chinese manufacturers, so you're saving money by skipping the markup that retail chains would apply to products.  On top of that, you can sometimes get in-store coupons for certain products from some sellers, or even site-wide coupons during promotional events.  That means that you can save even more money!

A reason why you wouldn't want to use AliExpress is if you needed your order in a hurry.  Items sold ship directly from China, so depending on where you live in the world, it could take between a few days and a few weeks to get your order (unless you pay for expedited shipping, which kind of negates the point of shopping on AliExpress for its low prices).  You also probably won't want to be using AliExpress as a seller, unless you live in Hong Kong or mainland China.  The platform hasn't started accepting sellers from other regions just yet.

Who does AliExpress compete against?

There are quite a few e-commerce websites that compete against AliExpress, both inside and outside the direct-from-China market.  One of the most similar ones is LightInTheBox.com, a direct-from-China online marketplace that has a branch site, MiniInTheBox.com, if you're looking specifically for electronics.  Another is DinoDirect.com, which prides itself on having free shipping worldwide for many items.  

For more information on these alternatives to AliExpress, read this article.

That's a brief introduction to AliExpress and how it works!  The rest of our course will focus on how to use the website, from buying goods to tracking orders to returning items that you're not satisfied with.  We'll also have a tutorial on how to get rid of your AliExpress account if you no longer want it.  Check out AliExpress today and see if you can save some money by buying direct and skipping the retail middleman!

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