If you're like most people, you've heard of AliExpress but don't really know how it works. Is it a site for buying cheap clothes? Or is it an online marketplace for businesses?
In this article, we'll break down exactly what AliExpress is and how it works!
What is AliExpress and why would you use it?
AliExpress is the consumer arm of the Chinese giant Alibaba which started as a business-to-business sales marketplace.
But what do they do?
AliExpress is an ecommerce website based in China. It hosts multiple suppliers who upload and sell their products worldwide. Buyers can select products from a wide variety of categories at wholesale prices. AliExpress can be thought of as the Chinese Amazon.
As explained, it's a bit like eBay or Amazon in that AliExpress itself is simply the platform. When you shop on AliExpress, you are actually buying from multiple different Chinese sellers.
The overriding reason for people loving AliExpress in most instances is the excellent prices. Since AliExpress allows people to buy items from wholesale manufacturers, buyers can save money by skipping the added cost of retail markup.
This also creates business opportunities, something we will discuss in detail in this article.
Fun fact: Did you know that AliExpress is aimed at international buyers and thus does not sell to customers in mainland China?
What does AliExpress sell?
A better question could be, what doesn't AliExpress sell!
The platform has an incredible selection of items available. They are separated into a wide variety of categories which makes navigation easy.
Popular product categories include:
- Sporting goods
- Health and beauty products
- Home appliances
- Shoes and accessories
- Cell phones and consumer electronics
- Gardening products
And there are many more categories! Products you won't be able to buy on AliExpress include weaponry, software, ebooks, and digital media.
How do you use AliExpress?
To get the most out of using AliExpress, you'll need to set up a free account and log some of your personal preferences to help AliExpress refine your search for the best available products.
You'll easily navigate the various available categories in your targeted niche using filtering.
Set up your free account
Sign up for a free account via the sign-up link in the top-right corner of the official AliExpress website. Create a new account by manually entering your email address in the sign-up form or logging in with your Facebook or Google account.
After the initial account creation, AliExpress will ask for your personal information, including the shopping categories that interest you, to ensure that they serve appropriate products to you.
Once your profile is set up, you'll be able to browse AliExpress and search for products via the search bar at the top of the site.
Products can be purchased by selecting the ‘Buy Now' button or added to your shopping cart by selecting the ‘Add to Cart' button. The shopping process on AliExpress is very similar to most other online stores such as Amazon or Target.
Now that you've signed in, it's time to browse! Check out the category menu on the left side of your screen. You'll see that there are hundreds of categories to choose from.
Hover over a category to expand it and view the sub-categories. Click on one that interests you to see the products on offer in that category.
You can also search for a specific item if you know what you are looking for by typing the item's name into the search bar. Click the search button and scroll down to check out the results:
You can narrow down the selection by using the filters on the top or left side of the screen. You can sort the results by best match, new products, amount of orders, or price to find the best options.
When clicking on a product, each product page includes a description of features and the product price.
If you like one of the products you see on AliExpress, all you have to do is add it to your cart and proceed with the payment.
Related article: Not sure how to pay for your AliExpress order? Check out this article with the best payment methods for AliExpress.
Are the products on AliExpress good quality?
Given the number of sellers on AliExpress, it’s hard to make a blanket statement about product quality. You'll need to do a lot of filtering, but the best thing you can do is research the seller.
Click on the ‘Feedback' tab and deep dive into the seller's reputation with its buyers:
Watch carefully for quality issues when it comes to cosmetics (for a negative impact on the skin), electronics (for faulty devices and foreign connections), and clothing (for fabric preferences and sizing). These issues can trip you up and result in costly product returns.
Let common sense prevail. If a product is usually quite costly and you see it on AliExpress at a very low price, it is probably not the quality you want. If the product has possible safety issues, stay away from buying it.
How does AliExpress shipping work?
AliExpress works much like other large ecommerce platforms. Because AliExpress suppliers are based in China, it is vital to give you some insight into pricing, shipping, and quality.
What shipping costs can you expect?
Standard shipping is often free, but you should always check the estimated delivery date. Deliveries can sometimes take 45 business days! This will, of course, be too long for some people.
Faster shipping via UPS or FedEx can be exorbitant. If ordering directly from an AliExpress supplier, I'd suggest filtering those suppliers to look for ‘Free Shipping' with product delivery via UPS or FedEx.
You can bank on paying roughly $10.00 (product weight and size-dependent) for shipping to the US in addition to the product cost for delivery to your customer using this method.
Buying products from suppliers with a warehouse based in the country you are based is also an excellent strategy to decrease shipping costs and delivery time.
More about this later.
What shipping times can you expect?
You won't want to order directly from AliExpress using ‘Standard Shipping' if you want your orders in a hurry. As mentioned, typical shipping times at AliExpress differ a lot. It could be anything between 12-60 days.
The pandemic also resulted in AliExpress changing its consumer protection time to 90 days. If something hasn't arrived, you'll still need to wait 90 days before even thinking about making a non-delivery claim.
But don’t worry, in this article here, we will show you how to get faster shipping on AliExpress!
Why are AliExpress prices so low? This is because you typically buy directly from the manufacturer with no intermediary, and there is minimal markup.
Although the prices on AliExpress are usually pretty reasonable, it is worth mentioning that you can also get virtual coupons to save money on the cost of your orders.
Move the cursor over your name to view your coupons and then click ‘My Coupons.' Look through the tabs at the top and see if the categories have any coupons available for you to use.
It used to be the case that products from AliExpress didn't include the standard 20% VAT or import taxes.
As of January 2021 for the UK and July 2021 for the EU, if you are delivering to a UK or EU address, this 20% will now automatically be added at checkout.
Tip: Find out how you can get cashback on your AliExpress orders here!
Is it safe to buy on AliExpress?
Let’s start by assessing its reliability. Because AliExpress serves as a showcase for various Chinese suppliers, it isn't easy to generalize.
Still, it is not uncommon to receive poor quality products or, worse, products that differ from what you bought!
We advise staying on the AliExpress platform and never directly doing business with a supplier. If the product does not match the description, you have protection from AliExpress.
AliExpress offers buyer protection on all orders. You can open a dispute with the seller and get a partial or full refund.
AliExpress is legit, but many of the products aren't, so watch out for scammers.
Is AliExpress good for dropshipping?
Now that you know everything about AliExpress, you might be wondering what business opportunities we meant at the start of this article.
Well, there's an option to do dropshipping with AliExpress!
AliExpress makes it easy for beginner dropshippers to select, import, and sell products using an online store.
AliExpress offers a unique infrastructure, ideal for dropshipping order fulfillment. Sellers can source products from various categories and easily import them to their store with just a few clicks. With no requirement to hold inventory or manage shipping, AliExpress is a good product sourcing platform for dropshippers.
How do you dropship using AliExpress?
Here’s how it works:
- You add the products you’d like to sell from AliExpress to your store.
- You set a price with a markup.
- When you receive an order, you pay for that product at wholesale prices.
- The AliExpress seller ships the order directly to your customer.
Dropshipping with AliExpress is a great starting point to test the demand for your products without a significant financial outlay.
Many sellers work towards ultimately sourcing the product through a reliable agent with branding possibilities, reasonable pricing, and better delivery times.
To display the product in your store, you'll need to work on the following:
- Amazing product images
- An attractive, unique product description
If you are looking for inspiration from some impressive product pages, you'll find it here!
Lastly, dropshipping using AliExpress is as simple as buying a product from the site and inputting your customer’s address after receiving their order.
Tip: Not sure what to do with the phone number? Check out our other article here!
How do you judge if it's a good product to sell?
The first part of setting up your store is selecting a niche or the selection of dropshipping products you’re going to sell.
If you don’t know where to start, you'll find these 25 best dropshipping niche ideas helpful.
Once you have a distinct niche in mind, it’s time to choose a few products you want to resell in your store.
Some tips for selecting a high-quality product from a reliable supplier include:
- Sort by the number of orders. If you see that a product has over 300 orders, this indicates that there is a demand for the product and that the seller is likely to be reliable.
- Sort by seller rating. Look for a rating of over 4.7 to ensure that you select a supplier that has positive feedback. If the seller has been on AliExpress for some time, they are probably more reliable too.
- Analyze the customer reviews. Are customers happy with their products? Are the customer review images similar to the seller's product?
- Avoid brand names and knock-offs. The risks that come with selling a knock-off of a well-known product are not worth it.
- Sort by shipping method and country to be shipped to. We'll gain an understanding how shipping works on AliExpress in a moment but for now, look for products that are sold to the country you are targeting and sellers who use ‘Free Shipping” using “UPS” or “FedEx”. You'll see that your product will arrive a whole lot faster than they will using ‘Standard Shipping”.
- Sort by products with high margin potential. This depends on the product but you should be aiming to sell the product using this formula: (AliExpress product price + shipping cost x 2.5 = your selling price). (Check out this article for more pricing strategies.)
- Sort by products that have great images provided by the seller. This really helps you quickly load new products, ensuring they are displayed attractively.
If you'd like to learn more about product research, I suggest reading the articles I’ve linked below:
- How To Choose What To Dropship: Finding The Right Products
- The 17 Best Winning Dropshipping Product Research Tools
How dropshippers reduce AliExpress pain points
We've pointed out several pain points relating to product quality, shipping costs, and timing. How do dropshippers work around this?
Let's go over that now:
1. Use AliExpress suppliers who deliver with high priority shipping
Using major courier services like DHL or FedEx is the quickest way to deliver products on AliExpress.
With a lot of sorting and sifting, it is possible to find suppliers who offer free shipping and high-priority shipping (5-12 days). You can ask the supplier for recent proof of tracking to ensure that the parcel does indeed arrive at the customer within this timeframe.
Avoid sellers who advertise their shipping services as ‘uses seller's own method.' Your customer could wait for their product for months!
In many cases, high-priority shipping comes at a cost, and you'll need to allocate your budget to high shipping costs and manage your pricing carefully to ensure you are still making a decent profit.
2. Use AliExpress Premium Shipping
Using AliExpress's Premium Shipping has proven to be a quicker shipping solution. But it is expensive; you'd need to brace yourself for that.
On average, shipping using this service takes anything between 3 -10 working days. Of course, the number of days depends on where the warehouse you are shipping your products from is located.
This service allows you to track down your package from various locations.
3. Use a global connection service to increase the speed of delivery
These services offer a hassle-free solution to fulfill orders and are completely free to use. They automate dropshipping orders to their warehouses and ship to the dropshipper's customer.
Their quality control teams are pretty good, and they offer branding and packaging at an additional cost. They use express shipping channels to get your product to the customer quicker (the average delivery time is 7-14 days).
If you're interested in this, then you can find the best dropshipping suppliers here!
4. Find a local dropshipping supplier (or multiple suppliers)
This is one of the most successful ways to reduce delivery times down when dropshipping.
This will save a lot of time when you compare it to the 2-4 weeks you usually deal with when dropshipping with AliExpress (and yes, ePacket isn’t what it used to be).
Another option is finding a dropshipping agent, which you can learn more about here!
5. Use third-party fulfillment (or 3PL)
To take the speed of delivery one step further, the likes of ShipBob, Shipwire, Shipmonk, and Shipstation offer packing, labeling, and warehouse services if you need to be a little more meticulous about order processing and delivery.
If you want to brand your products with your store's logo, you can't go wrong with incorporating these experts in your logistics plans. Above all, your products won't have AliExpress branding on them.
As discussed, it would be best to test the product well before taking this leap as the service is quite costly but well worth it if the product is selling.
6. Ensure the product is displayed with originality
Product images used within AliExpress stores are usually free to use (unless they're watermarked). You don't need to worry about infringing on copyright issues by using them on your product and category pages.
We can't stress the importance of making changes to product pages imported from AliExpress enough. Have you spotted similar products on other online stores with pages that all look the same? These stores may even use similar Shopify themes.
It's not good enough to replicate the original AliExpress pages, and this is why:
- Without a detailed product page (which AliExpress suppliers often don't provide), your potential customer cannot make an informed purchasing decision.
- Most AliExpress product pages lack a well-structured marketing message with a compelling call-to-action.
- Many AliExpress product pages are written in poor English which does not inspire confidence and trust in your product or your store.
Make your product description irresistible and informative!
Looking for inspiration? This article shows you 10 product page examples from ecommerce stores.
So, there you have it! The complete guide to understanding how AliExpress works for dropshipping beginners.
If you want to learn more about how to set up your Shopify store correctly, I suggest reading these articles below:
- Shopify Dropshipping: A 20-Step Guide to Starting Your Store
- 18 Things to Know Before Starting a Dropshipping Store
- Shopify Store Checklist: The Ultimate Launch Guide (2023)
The first article goes into detail about creating a successful Shopify dropshipping store. For example, we will cover how to pick a name for your store and explain how to advertise your dropshipping store.
It’s like a complete dropshipping course, but for free! Sounds good, right?
If you think you’re stuck in the research phase and unsure how to move forward, check out this article here.
And last but not least, if you don’t have a Shopify store yet, you can click here to get a free 3-day trial + pay $1/month for the first 3 months!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog. It contains everything you need to know to start your successful dropshipping store.
If you’ve got any questions regarding dropshipping, let me know by commenting below or contacting us directly by pressing the ‘Contact Us' button at the top!
Good luck with everything!