Is AliExpress Legit? What to Know Before You Shop
You'll want to take a few key steps to ensure you're safe.
It seems like there are almost endless online marketplaces nowadays to get discounted goods, whether it's Amazon, Shein, or Temu. One such website that you may have seen more of recently is AliExpress—and it might have you wondering: Is AliExpress legit? Given the site's popularity, we set off to find the answer. Read on for everything you need to know about AliExpress, including what it sells, how to use it in the most effective and safest way possible, and whether or not retail pros consider AliExpress a reliable place for shopping online.
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What Is AliExpress?
AliExpress is an online platform based in China that allows international shoppers to buy goods from Chinese retailers. The shop sells a little bit of everything, in a way that's not dissimilar to Amazon, for rock-bottom prices. AliExpress launched in 2010 and is part of Alibaba Group, which was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, and is the third highest-value e-commerce company in the world, after Amazon and PDD Holdings (which owns fellow retail giant Temu), according to insight group eCommerce DB.
AliExpress operates in more than 220 countries, but according to a survey by Statista Consumer Insights between 2022 and 2023, it's most popular in Spain, where 38 percent of respondents said they shopped at the site in the past year, the Netherlands (28 percent), Brazil (25 percent), Mexico (19 percent), and Italy (14 percent). The site is still gaining traction in the U.S., where just 11 percent of respondents said they'd shopped there that year. Stateside, a shopper is much more likely to do similar shopping on Amazon, or, more recently, Temu, which got a major bump in publicity from its commercial ad during the 2023 Super Bowl.
The difference between AliExpress and its sibling Alibaba is a little bit confusing. While Alibaba sells its wares in a business-to-business model at wholesale prices, AliExpress follows a business-to-consumer model that's targeted toward everyday shoppers. To put it more simply: If you were to buy a pair of socks for yourself, you'd shop at AliExpress; if you were to buy 500 pairs of socks for your sock store or online shop, you'd probably get a better deal at Alibaba, which was developed with that sort of thing in mind.
How Does AliExpress Work?
AliExpress is somewhat different from traditional e-commerce platforms. "It's better categorized as an online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers globally," says Jeanel Alvarado, retail expert at RETAILBOSS. "Unlike traditional retail models, AliExpress does not hold inventory but allows sellers, often manufacturers or wholesalers, to list their products directly to customers."
To make an order, you simply navigate to the product you want to buy and click "Buy Now." Then, you input your shipping address and payment information and click "Place Order." You'll pay and typically receive your order a few weeks later.
The low prices on AliExpress lead many shoppers to wonder if it's possible to buy in bulk. The answer is yes and no. Many products on AliExpress don't allow you to add more than one quantity of the product to your cart. However, some products are sold in bulk on a single product; for example, these false eyelashes are sold as a group of 20, but count as just "one" product in your cart. You're not allowed to buy more than one of the pack of 20.
Is AliExpress Safe?
It depends on your definition of "legit." AliExpress is not a scam, and will most likely get you your products or provide you a full or partial refund if it can't. However, the quality of its items is often lacking (more on that later!), it's riddled with counterfeits, and you might be waiting for your shipment for a really (really!) long time.
If you're worried about privacy, you should also be aware that the site may share your information with third-party service providers, including payment processors, logistics partners, marketing partners, cloud hosting providers, and customer support vendors.
How Are Items Advertised on AliExpress?
When you navigate to a product page on AliExpress, you'll notice it looks quite similar to many online retailer pages. There are product photos on the left side, and size and color options on the right, depending on what applies to the product; if you scroll, you can find reviews and ratings from shoppers, some of which come with handy photos.
From our experience, many of the product descriptions on the site are quite minimal—so if you're used to long descriptions as you'd find on Amazon, you may be disappointed.
When reviewing products on AliExpress, it's wise to use a certain degree of caution. Like many e-commerce websites, there's always the potential for a seller to use a photo of their product that makes it look higher quality than it is.
If you turn instead to reviews, be wary of "brushing scams." Per the CBC, to conduct these scams, sellers send free products to random addresses in the hopes of getting positive reviews. That, in turn, can skew review results.
Why Are the Products So Cheap?
There are a few reasons the products on AliExpress are available at shockingly low prices—think a roll-aboard suitcase for $6.80, a "stainless steel" wristwatch for 99 cents, and a hyaluronic acid skincare serum for a mere nickel.
"Products on AliExpress are often cheaper than those found on other e-commerce sites because customers are buying products directly from manufacturers or wholesalers, allowing them to offer lower prices by cutting out the middle man, which would usually be the online retailer or online store," says Alvarado.
The company's location also comes into play. "The low cost of raw materials and production in China contributes to the affordability of goods on the platform," Alvarado adds.
Then, there's the fact that some of the products may be fakes—and it can be hard to tell which they are. In one 2020 CBC investigation, reporters found at least two instances of counterfeit lip products, one from MAC Cosmetics and one from Kylie Cosmetics. The reporters were able to determine they were dupes by reading the fine print, where there were glaring typos. Even more worrisome, the products contained dangerous levels of heavy metals.
Finally, orders on AliExpress are cheaper than ones from Alibaba because there's no minimum order quantity (MOQ). "On Alibaba, you must meet the MOQ to make an order," explains Alvarado. "Depending on the vendor, the MOQ could start as low as 5 units, to as high as 500 units." Needing to order in bulk drives up a total order value considerably, even if the MOQ is on the low end.
Is There a Buyer Protection Program in Place?
Given some of its shortcomings, it's important to note that AliExpress has a Buyer Protection program in place. If you don't receive your item or it's "significantly different" from the description, the site guarantees a refund. Remember, the phrase "significantly different" is objective, so you might need to do some negotiating once you contact Aliexpress support to get the money back.
What Does the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Have to Say About AliExpress?
AliExpress is not accredited by the BBB, nor is it considered a scam. Its current rating is a D-, and there have been 368 complaints filed against the online marketplace in the last 12 months.
Many complaints had to do with poor-quality merchandise. "I thought I ordered an Air Hogs anti-gravity race car … The car they sent isn't the car I purchased. It doesn't work correctly. It doesn't look like the one I purchased and nowhere on the packaging does it mention Air Hogs," commented one disgruntled customer who said he was offered a $10 coupon for the trouble.
Others said they didn't receive their product and were refused the refund that's outlined in the Buyer Protection program. "I ordered a carbon fiber tube from Aliexpress.com.they sent me a notification that the item was delivered. i did not receive any of the items i ordered, they would not provide a tracking number… I went through the AliExpress dispute process, they refused to do any investigational work into why the item was not delivered, and with no evidence to prove otherwise they refused to provide me a refund," one customer wrote to the BBB.
Tips for Shopping on AliExpress
Look Into Your Seller
Researching a seller is the single best way to increase your odds of a good shopping experience on AliExpress. Alvarado says she deems stores that are more than three years old to be the most trustworthy.
"Other indicators include store credits, user reviews, and total sales," she says. "Reading customer reviews can provide insights into the seller's performance regarding delivery times, item descriptions, and product quality—and checking a seller's feedback tab on their page can also give a comprehensive breakdown of their history and customer satisfaction."
If they get frequent complaints, move on to the next seller. And for more information on the kind of coverage they provide for missing or damaged items, be sure to check the seller "guarantees" tab.
Never Pay a Seller Directly
Stay away from the seller's bank account. Purchasing through the platform is the only way you'll be eligible for its Buyer Protection policy. When you check out, a credit card may be your best bet.
"In the case that your online purchases don't arrive, you will be able to initiate a chargeback with your bank if the seller refuses to provide a refund for non-delivery," says Alvarado. However, she notes a debit card is also safe to use on AliExpress.
Don't Confirm Delivery Until You Have Inspected the Products
Once your order arrives and you're satisfied with it, you can go to "My Orders" and click "Confirm Goods Received." If you're not satisfied, you must open a dispute within 15 days of the confirmation. Don't click that you've received your order when you haven't, or you shorten your window to open a dispute.
Don't Expect Your Delivery to Arrive Immediately
Items from AliExpress travel a long way before they arrive on your doorstep (they're coming from China)—so if you need a product to show up overnight, this isn't the online shopping experience for you.
According to NextSmartShip, it usually takes between three and five days for the seller to prepare your order and send it out for shipping, and that time could be even longer if your order is customized in any way. After that happens it may take another 15 to 60 days for the product to get to you in the U.S. There could also be added delays and increases in shipping costs around the holiday season.
Currently, there are three shipping options on AliExpress: standard, premium, and Cainiao. With premium, your order could arrive in around seven to 15 days. Cainiao is a shipping provider launched by Alibaba Group. The method is cheaper than AliExpress standard shipping, but typically takes much longer—sometimes up to 60 days, per Freightcourse.
Stay Away From Brand Name and Electronics
Unfortunately, they're probably shoddy fakes. If an item—and its price tag—looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
Overall, whether or not you decide to use AliExpress depends on the quality of products you're expecting and your comfort with its Buyer Protection program. When online shopping, you'll want to use caution by researching sellers and their products. For more retail advice, visit Best Life again soon.
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