When you’re just starting out in dropshipping, AliExpress and Alibaba might sound like the same thing.
They are both huge ecommerce platforms that sell pretty much everything under the sun online.
So which one should you use? Let’s compare them side by side to help answer this question!
What is Alibaba?
But first, let’s begin with the basics; what is Alibaba?
Alibaba is a business-to-business (B2B) sales platform that has been around since 1999. Items on Alibaba are sold in bulk, and as the site is a marketplace for wholesalers rather than a single seller, Alibaba doesn’t own the inventory sold.
Alibaba is a company based in China that serves business in 190 countries with over 5,900 different categories of products.
What is AliExpress?
Founded in 2010, AliExpress has grown into a huge sales platform that enables consumers worldwide to buy directly from manufacturers and distributors in China.
AliExpress emphasizes business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and similar to Alibaba, it comprises thousands of sellers but doesn’t actually own any inventory itself.
What is the difference between Alibaba and AliExpress?
So now that we know the basics of these two platforms, what exactly is the difference?
The main difference between Alibaba and AliExpress is a minimum order quantity (MOQ); Alibaba has a MOQ on its products. This means you will have to bulk buy products before you have sold them.
Committing upfront financially to a bulk order may be offputting for most dropshippers, but it is also the only way you’re going to get the best prices on the products.
Most sellers will offer even better prices when you buy more than the minimum MOQ.
AliExpress, on the other hand, allows you to buy products individually, and you will only have to order once you have sold the product on your store first.
Sellers on AliExpress are typically middle-persons, so you won’t be getting the best price possible as they too will be taking their cut.
Can you use both for dropshipping?
Both platforms facilitate dropshipping, but it’s worth noting that not all suppliers do facilitate dropshipping, so always ask.
Initially, it was AliExpress who had a focus on this, with them boasting their own Dropshipping Center.
However, Alibaba has now also made great progress in also facilitating dropshipping, with some suppliers even reducing their MOQ to 1.
Since the Alibaba Dropshipping Center was released, this has made it far easier to find suppliers who do this.
We have a great deal more information on the Alibaba Dropshipping Center in our definitive guide here.
But aren’t they the same business?
Yes. These two platforms are sister companies operated by the same owner Alibaba Group.
The Alibaba Group was founded by Jack Ma in Hangzhou, China, in 1999 with his mission “To make it easy to do business anywhere.”
In addition to this, the Alibaba Group owns Taobao, another sales platform, and AliPay, an online payment gateway.
Finding the best dropshipping suppliers
Let’s now look at a few ways to find the best suppliers on both sales platforms.
This is crucial as when dropshipping; you are putting a lot of trust in your suppliers. This is because you will not know the quality of the products until your customers start complaining.
Fortunately, both platforms have made it easy for users to know a little about suppliers before using them.
With Alibaba, you can check out the supplier’s store page, which provides a great deal of information.
A few useful points to look out for are:
- The years they have been with Alibaba.
- The On-time delivery rate.
- And how many transactions they have made.
This will help paint a better picture of how established they are and how efficient you should expect them to be.
The ‘Verified Supplier’ badge is also an added perk, as you know you’re in good hands with them.
For more information about finding dropshipping suppliers on Alibaba, check out this article here.
Similar to Alibaba, AliExpress also has a page for each store which provides a great deal of information on the seller:
On this page, you can see the general feedback from customers on the products, the communication from the supplier, and the shipping speed. All crucial metrics to consider when shortlisting them for your dropshipping store.
In addition to the previously mentioned statistics, you can also view the supplier’s business license.
For more information about finding dropshipping suppliers on AliExpress, check out this article here.
Speaking to suppliers
So at this point, you should have a few suppliers shortlisted.
But before you begin doing business with a supplier from either of these ecommerce platforms, you should always find a reason to strike a conversation with them.
This is primarily to determine how fast they respond and, more importantly, how well they respond. There’s plenty to talk to them about.
Do they facilitate dropshipping?
First and foremost, you should always ask if they facilitate dropshipping. Yes, most of them will, but it’s always good to check as not all do.
Another reason why you want to ask this is that if they don’t know you’re dropshipping, they’re likely to send promotional material along with your order to your customers, and even perhaps the invoice for the order you made.
Your customer will certainly not be happy to see that.
Is there a MOQ?
This is more exclusive for Alibaba suppliers, but you could also strike a better deal if you decide to go with AliExpress.
Sure, the suppliers will list their MOQ on their product page if they have one, but this is usually flexible.
If you can’t make the MOQ or perhaps don’t want to commit to one so high, suppliers are usually more than happy to make concessions in the hope of future business.
For more information about MOQ when dropshipping, check out this article here.
Do they provide branded products and packaging?
Branding is a great way to make your product and business stand out from all of your competitors.
While this question is exclusive to Alibaba suppliers, some AliExpress suppliers may be open to the idea. In both cases, you will have to commit to a MOQ of branded products as the supplier won’t be able to sell your product if you can’t.
Branding itself also comes at a cost, so this will need to be factored into your total cost per unit.
Similar to the MOQ’s, on Alibaba, the product prices are also normally flexible.
So don’t agree to the first price listed on the product page. Especially if you’re committing to a large MOQ, expect some form of price per unit reduction.
With AliExpress, the product prices are usually fixed until you start drumming up many sales; then perhaps, they may start giving you some discount codes.
In any case, it doesn’t do any harm to ask for a discount on the price per unit.
Processing & Shipping times
On both platforms, they will show an estimated processing and shipping times on their product pages.
With AliExpress, it’s fairly cheap, reliable, and their deliveries are also always tracked when using AliExpress standard shipping.
On the other hand, Alibaba is not so straightforward, as their prices ad shipping times are based on shipping the entire MOQ to one location in one go.
As Alibaba is set up on a B2B basis, their platform also reflects this. In this case, you will need to enter into your own arrangement with your supplier.
Some suppliers may be too busy to be bothered with handling this aspect of shipping as it’s, to put it simply, too much work for little return.
It is also quite reasonable to ask your supplier to provide tracking numbers to recently completed orders to your intended countries to dropship.
This way, you’re able to get a realistic perspective on how long orders take to move with this supplier.
How do they handle returns?
This is an important discussion to have with your suppliers before you start using them.
You will not want to find yourself in a position where customers complain about slow deliveries or defective products only for your supplier not to be much help.
This is the time to agree on the terms in such an event to avoid confusion later on. In any circumstance, you shouldn’t be asking your customer to return the product to China.
You can learn more about handling returns when dropshipping from China, in our other article here!
Looking out for the red flags
There is a lot of talk of such sales platforms being untrustworthy and of buyers being scammed.
To be clear on the matter, the platform is just fine; untrustworthy or unreliable suppliers really don’t last very long as they get strikes on their record with each complaint.
It’s effortless to avoid such suppliers by looking out for the red flags.
Check out the product and store reviews
Every store has a profile page on both platforms. So check this out first and foremost.
This is a good way to see what the customers think about the supplier. It also provides a great insight into any problems the supplier may be having, such as shipping delays or poor-quality products.
Transparency on pricing
Is the product cost really cheap but the shipping is expensive? This is a sign that the supplier can’t be really trusted on pricing.
Suppliers can also incrementally increase the cost per unit in the hope that the change goes unnoticed.
If you have a quote from a supplier, ensure the shipping, packaging, and any additional branding is agreed upon before a deposit is paid. It also helps to verify for how long this agreement is in place.
On both AliExpress and Alibaba, the suppliers are very likely going to be Chinese. You are expected to be a little more patient than usual as not every supplier will be a fluent English speaker.
However, if this is a regular problem, you should know when to walk away, as this could be a recipe for disaster further down the road.
This is another reason why you should always be asking your supplier questions before doing business with them.
Requesting cash transfer
If suppliers are requesting payment by any means outside of the sales platform, don’t do it!
Always operate within the platform as they will offer you that layer of protection if the supplier breaches the agreement in any way.
There are numerous payment methods on both platforms, with most suppliers facilitating the payment by PayPal. We strongly recommend using this payment method if it’s available as PayPal is very buyer-centric, so if any issues arise, you’re covered.
So, Alibaba or AliExpress?
So this brings us to the real question, which of the two are better for dropshipping? Well, the answer depends entirely on your business needs.
Here’s how they stack against each other:
Alibaba is best for you if:
- You’re interested in dealing with a B2B supplier rather than a B2C supplier like with AliExpress. (Sellers on AliExpress are typically middle-persons as well)
- You’re searching for suppliers that offer a minimum order quantity (MOQ). This is great if you’re interested in, for example, branding your products.
- You’re interested in doing something different than other dropshippers that dropship from China. Most use AliExpress, so if you’re someone that wants something different than most – why not give Alibaba a try?
AliExpress is best for you if:
- You’re just getting started. There’s a lot more information online about dropshipping with AliExpress instead of Alibaba. However, don’t forget that the basics of ecommerce don’t change – no matter which partner you choose to handle your supply chain.
- You’re just beginning, then the interface from AliExpress is, for most beginners, easier to understand than Alibaba. (Likely because AliExpress is aimed at consumers, not businesses; that’s why everything looks different)
- You want to easily connect your supplier to your ecommerce platform. There are more connections available to AliExpress. However, Alibaba is opening its doors now more to dropshipping – so change is coming!
- You’re looking for shipping costs that are fairly cheap and reliable. The logistics are more straightforward with AliExpress than with Alibaba, but don’t forget that you’re most likely still shipping from China. (Or you can find an AliExpress supplier that has warehouses in different countries)
If you want to save it for later – check out our infographic below:
If you can commit to a MOQ, like the idea of branded products and at rock bottom prices, then perhaps Alibaba is for you. Just be aware that the logistics are not as straightforward as they would be with AliExpress as remember, this is a B2B supplier.
Perhaps you are happy to pay a little more per unit and not commit to a MOQ, then AliExpress would be a better solution for you. (However, don’t forget that Alibaba is opening more and more to dropshippers)
Additionally, many ecommerce platforms have plugins that work very well with both sales platforms to semi-automate the ordering and fulfillment, meaning using them is a little more hands-off.
We hope this has clarified a few points for you. Have you decided which one you’re going to use? Let us know which one and why in the comments below!