5 Red Flags About Shopping on Alibaba, According to Experts
From scams to subpar product, here's what retail pros say to look out for.
Alibaba is indisputably one of the biggest companies on the planet, thanks to a legendary 2014 IPO that solidified its position. Though the Chinese conglomerate dabbles in a little bit of everything—from cloud computing to digital media production—its primary focus remains the sprawling e-commerce network that catapulted it to household-name status. Still, size doesn't necessarily mean security. When you're shopping on Alibaba, you shouldn't do so witlessly. That's not to say you should avoid the site—you should just be mindful. Here are five red flags about shopping on Alibaba, straight from retail experts.
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5 Red Flags About Shopping on Alibaba
1. Yes, scams exist.
"I would say the primary concern when shopping on Alibaba should be to avoid potential scams," Andy Kalmon, the CEO of financial advice firm Benny, tells Best Life. "Fortunately, [avoiding scams] is pretty easy. Just look for sellers with the Trade Assurance seal."
Alibaba's Trade Assurance seal is unmissable: A gold icon shaped like a castle, with a white dollar sign in the center. It works as a bona fide insurance policy for anything you get through Alibaba. It also allows you to determine a shipping date, so you can better track and anticipate the arrival of your products.
"And only conduct transactions through the site itself," Kalmon adds. "Be wary of sellers who want you to move the transaction off-site. It's also important to note that haggling is pretty much expected, so don't feel rude for negotiating with a seller before committing to a purchase."
2. Individual vendor return policies are important.
Yes, Alibaba has return stipulations, but they're more guidelines that serve as a de facto middleman between buyer and seller.
Instead, Jonathan Rogers, founder of credit and finance advice site Credexel, advises shoppers to check the return policy of the individual seller from whom they're buying a product. "Be sure you know when and how to expect a refund."
Rogers also says to check if there are fees for sending something back. "You can take extra precautions by using a third-party payment processor that offers buyer protection or by purchasing product insurance."
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3. Avoid anything subject to regulations.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it's essential advice: You're probably better off buying any regulated items from a dedicated seller rather than a mass market retailer. Doubly so for a place like Alibaba, where scams can be, if not exactly widespread, at least present to some degree.
"It is best to avoid buying items subject to strict safety regulations, such as medical devices or children's toys," Rakhi Oswal, the founder of luxury e-commerce brand Edrio, cautions. "You must read reviews from other buyers, verify the supplier's credentials, and use secure payment methods."
4. Don't expect same-day delivery.
The so-called "everything stores" du jour have minted the expectation of near-instant delivery, with places like Amazon parading the prospect of next- or even same-day delivery. You should not expect as much if you're getting products from Alibaba—purely for geographical reasons.
"It is important to be patient," Oswal says. "Delivery times can be longer than what you are used to with domestic purchases."
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5. There's a minimum on bulk orders.
The "try before you buy" adage applies to one-off purchases just as much as it does to larger shipments. Before you buy 500 iterations of the same thing, know that you're well within your rights to request a test first.
"If you plan to purchase an item in bulk, sample the product in advance," Cesar Cruz, a fashion designer and the co-founder of luxury e-commerce brand Sebastian Cruz Couture, recommends.
"For example, let's say you found a customizable T-shirt that would be a good fit for your sports team or club on Alibaba. In the slight chance that the item doesn't match the quality as advertised, test the product before submitting a large order," Cruz recommends.
"Many vendors require a minimum item order limit, so you may need to contact the seller directly to request and purchase a sample," he adds.