Is It Safe To Buy From AliExpress?
If you do any shopping online, you’ve probably heard of AliExpress, the retail arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, the Asian version of Amazon. AliExpress sells locally made goods online and will ship them to the US as required. The items are cheap (even if the quality can be iffy), quantities are effectively unlimited, and you can find just about everything you could ever need on the site. But is AliExpress safe to buy from? What do you need to know when using the site?
Alibaba is one of the ten biggest companies in the world, with a market capitalization of more than $500 billion in 2018. AliExpress is the retail face of the company, aimed at Western audiences. It offers access to Chinese products at (mostly) Chinese prices. It looks and feels a lot like Amazon without the brand names.
Prices on Alibaba tend to be low, mainly because labor and production costs in China are low and you are often buying direct from manufacturers. The other reason is because the products could be counterfeit. Finally, the shipping is inexpensive (or was) because in recent years shipments from Asia have received preferential treatment in the international postal arrangements that set inter-country shipping prices for small packages. In late 2018 the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the international postal treaty, and this may make AliExpress less competitive in the future.
Is AliExpress safe?
Such a short question has quite a long answer. Some well-publicized web script vulnerabilities have been patched, so the site is now as safe as any other e-commerce site. However, there is a lot of ‘buyer beware’ when dealing with marketplace websites. Many of the risks are the same ones you find on Amazon Marketplace: guarantees are limited and you depend entirely on the seller. The same is true for AliExpress.
Rather than list all the risks, I would rather focus on the positive and provide some actionable tips for using AliExpress safely.
Use established sellers
Just like eBay, Etsy or Amazon, you need to check the seller before you commit. Check feedback, check how long they have been a seller on the site and check how many products they have sold. It isn’t foolproof but it will give you a good idea of how reliable they are and how likely they are to deliver the goods as promised.
Each product page has a feedback tab. Read it to see what people say and get a feel for the seller. Scroll down the product page to see the transaction history and assess how many they have sold and get a feel for how long they have been in business. Use these pieces of information to make your judgement.
Make sure to read the description carefully
There are all sorts of strange products or strange terms and conditions on AliExpress. Make sure you read the description very carefully and that you double check that you are actually buying the item you are looking at. Sometimes, customization options are included within the description, special terms are listed or other useful information.
Check seller guarantees
AliExpress is a marketplace, not a vendor. They facilitate the transaction but are not responsible for it. You need to make sure that the individual seller offers some kind of guarantee or warranty. The more you spend, the better the guarantee you should have. Check the Seller Guarantees tab carefully to make sure you are adequately covered.
The other guarantee to look out for is ‘Guaranteed Genuine’. This is to address the rampant counterfeiting that happens in China. If something is sold as Oakley or Casio and has this guarantee, if it turns out to be a fake, you are covered for the cost of the item and its shipping.
Watch for counterfeits
You will quickly find lots of brand name products on AliExpress. Some will be genuine, some will be knock-offs and some will be counterfeit. Many brand name products are made in China and exported. Some factories will sell ‘spares’ on AliExpress. Knock-offs are non-branded products that use the same mold or pattern to make. These can be as good as the official brand, or not.
Counterfeit is where a product says it is a brand name but isn’t. There is a lot of this behavior on AliExpress so you really have to be aware of what you are buying.
Pay for delivery
My final piece of advice comes from personal experience. If you buy something expensive, don’t opt for free postage. Pay a little extra for insured or guaranteed delivery. Free postage will use the cheapest carriers, will usually be slow and include minimal insurance. If you are buying something expensive, it is worth spending an extra few dollars to make sure it gets to you safely.
AliExpress is a massive marketplace where you can literally buy just about anything you like. As well as the points above, factor in customs duty and long delivery times. China is a long way from the United States and most shippers are using ocean freight, so it may take 40-50 days for your item to get to you. Plan accordingly.
If you’re an aware shopper and double check everything, AliExpress is a safe place to buy. What are your experiences? Tell us about them below!