A guide to safe and smart shopping on AliExpress
I’ve always been a sucker for a good deal. I’m filled with a sense of smug satisfaction whenever I shave off a few dollars on a purchase or when I know I’m getting a great bargain. Over the past couple of years, AliExpress has served as one of my go-to shopping platforms because of its affordability, wide selection, and ability to fill that satisfaction and excitement I crave when it comes to online shopping. Though already widely popular, there are still many people who I happen to know that aren’t familiar with the website or how to successfully navigate it. So, I’ve structured an in-depth guide below to discovering the wonders (& watchouts) of AliExpress!
What is AliExpress?
AliExpress is a massive online retailer owned by the Alibaba Group (a multibillion dollar Chinese e-commerce company known for providing consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business sales services via web portals1). You can find a diverse range of consumer goods from fashion and accessories to home & garden and furniture. Similar to the concept behind Amazon and Ebay, you can purchase these goods from various sellers.
Why the heck is everything insanely cheap?
In many instances, the seller you are purchasing from is the actual manufacturer of the product. Since there is no middleman, it cuts down on the costs to sell to you. Other factors may include China’s lax enforcement regarding intellectual property and their relatively low production costs when compared to other countries.
In other instances (and sadly this occurs just as often), products are counterfeit and fake. Sellers can also be sketchy and trick buyers into paying before they receive the item and then [magically] disappear. Luckily, there are safeguards throughout the website to prevent this and measures that you as the shopper can take in order to avoid such a sour situation. I’ll be discussing these more in detail below!
Okay, so … is it safe?
Now, that is my answer if I were required to give only a yes or no response. However, I want to be very transparent in this guide about the vulnerabilities with AliExpress and this is my full, multi-tiered response.
As of the date of this post, only one high-profile security breach has been recorded. Over a year ago a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered. I won’t go into the specifics but what this basically means is that it allows an attacker to reveal some customers’ personal information. Consequently, a malicious user could steal a seller’s session ID and perform actions on the victim’s behalf. Once AliExpress was made aware of the issue, it was resolved. Now, I will note here that XSS threats sadly are quite common (but of course they are still issues that should be taken very seriously); well known websites such as Twitter and Ebay, for example, have had and dealt with such vulnerabilities. Overall, AliExpress has solid systems when it comes to security. The website also relies heavily on AliPay, a third-party payment platform launched by the Alibaba Group, to process payments which provides an additional layer of security. Your personal and financial information is as safe as it would be if you were to use other comparable services such as Amazon and Ebay.
Article about AliExpress XSS Vulnerability: Here
Information about Cross-Site Scripting: Here
The other potential “danger” with using AliExpress is dealing with fraudulent sellers and products. Anyone who has shopped on Amazon, Ebay, any foreign e-commerce website, or heck, has even tried bargaining in Chinatown, should be at least somewhat familiar with this watchout. Like I mentioned above, there are always ways to reduce the risk of being scammed. As a safeguard, AliExpress offers Buyer Protection which guarantees buyers a full refund if you don’t receive your order and a full or partial refund if your item is not as described. All orders qualify for the Buyer Protection. AliExpress also has a seller ranking, rating, and response rate system in place as well as individual product ratings so that both buyers and sellers can gauge the credibility of one another. Later in this guide, I provide my own personal tips on how to better differentiate between trustworthy and not-so-trustworthy sellers and products.
Information about AliExpress feedback level & score: Here
Is AliExpress right for me?
Fingers crossed that I haven’t scared you away with all the information I just unloaded upon you (because we’re only halfway there! lol). I wanted to be upfront and honest when it comes to understanding how AliExpress generally works and addressing any safety concerns you might have. There IS a huge reason for why I absolutely love shopping through AliExpress — there is an amazing selection of products (I particularly love shopping for clothing & accessories here) and it’s usually dirt cheap. And, if you shop smart, you also don’t have to sacrifice quality for price! It just takes a bit of extra time and effort. Not everybody has that luxury and everyone has their own preferences but if the below qualities sounds more like you, then perhaps AliExpress is right for you.
Are you/do you:
- A bit more on the budget conscious side?
- Willing to do some extra research and digging? … to make sure you are getting the real thing at the best price
- Not need the product right away? … since it ships from China, shipping to your country can take several weeks
- Have a shopping addiction? … not a requirement of course ;p
Start to Finish: My Method on Navigating AliExpress
1. Gauging Price: Is it realistic?
This question can be answered based on two main factors: type of product & brand. When it comes to the type of product you wish to purchase, use your own personal knowledge (or look it up) about the typical price range of that category and then mix in a bit of common sense. If you are looking at buying a new TV, something priced $25 USD rightly incites suspicion. If you are looking at faux leather jackets, $25 USD might make more sense. The same type of mentality applies with product brands. Expect well known brands like Sony or Adidas to be closer to prices you find at other retailers. If you are willing to go with a noname brand/Chinese alternative, the prices will be much cheaper.
2. Product Score and Orders
Once you get to the results page, I’m sure the first thing (besides price maybe) your eyes are drawn to is the 0-5 star product rating system, a concept similar to most online retailers and review websites. This, combined with the Orders (number of individual orders of the product) can give you a solid starting point to determining whether or not this could be a good purchase.
3. Customer Product Reviews and Customer Photos
My personal pro-tip is to pay attention to the customer product reviews. Of course, this may seem like common sense but I think it’s worth mentioning so you keep an eye out for potential red flags. Now, I don’t mean to make a blanket statement here but it isn’t uncommon for sellers to purchase fake reviews. If you only see reviews that give a 5-star rating and no written review, that might be something you’d want to take note of. I always look to see if there are a few longer well-written reviews and photos of the actual product. My rationale is that if someone took the time to write a decent review and upload photos, it was probably done by a real person who purchased the good rather than a bot. Of course, use your own discretion here. This tip certainly isn’t like a hard rule to live by. I have purchased a product in the past where I didn’t see a quality written review or customer uploaded photos and it turned out being completely fine as well.
4. Seller Feedback Score
Checking out a seller’s feedback page is a great way to determine whether or not the seller him/herself is reputable or not. Take a look at their scores, ratings, and reviews and keep an eye out for mentions of subpar quality or non-deliveries!
5. Product Details
This is more like icing on top of the cake because I often skip this step. But checking this out is definitely useful in gaining a better understanding of the product itself since it will usually include various (yet important) specs. I’ve noticed that some sellers use this section as an opportunity to describe their manufacturing process or give you more intel about their business. Seeing this usually adds further credibility to the seller.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Contact the Seller!
When in doubt, contact the seller directly! A seller’s response rate is a good indicator of how quickly they will respond to you. You can either click the contact now button which is usually found on the left sidebar of the product page or you can find the button on the seller’s page. Just keep in mind that since these sellers are from China, their English may not be the best so try to keep communication simple!
7. Shipping & Payment and Seller Guarantees Tabs
Smart shopping is more than just finding great or exclusive deals. It’s also about being aware of what’s written in fine print. Take a few seconds to click through these two tabs because they will inform you about the seller’s guarantees when it comes to shipping, damages, returns, and shipping costs and estimates.
8. Rate the Product and Seller
This is completely optional but I try to do it when I remember to. Since the decision-to-purchasing process relies so heavily on reviews, the action of rating can help other consumers like yourself make better informed decisions. Also, if you ended up being really happy about your purchase, support the seller! Their chances of closing a sale is higher if their products are rated well and their service is praised. It takes less than 5 minutes out of your day to boost a seller or help rain justice on fraudulent ones.
Use Trusted Shipping Methods
If you are willing to pay a little extra, choose a shipping option with trusted tracking capabilities. This doesn’t necessarily ensure that you’d get your product on time, but at least you can almost guarantee that by using this courier, you will get your items.
Watch For Fake Tracking Numbers
AliExpress sets a specified limit for how many days a seller has before shipping your item after you make an order. If your order isn’t shipped out within this timeframe, AliExpress automatically cancels the order and refunds your money. To circumvent this, sellers have given a fake shipping number to trick the system into believing that your order was sent. It’s a shady practice that I personally haven’t experienced but have read about from others. In pretty much all cases of this, the product was eventually shipped out and an updated, accurate shipping number was given. For trusted and reputable sellers, I don’t think this is a common practice but it should still be something to be wary of.
Other Questions You May Have
What brands are sold on AliExpress?
Click here for a list of original brands and Chinese alternatives.
How do I file disputes & claims?
On occasion, you may find yourself receiving a package that is a defect or different than what was promised. The first thing I would recommend you do is to open a dispute with the seller. More info here. AliExpress will not be involved and it’s up to you contact and reach an agreement with the seller about: getting a refund, having a new product shipped free, etc … I would say roughly over 9 times out of 10, the problem is solved at this step because the seller does not want AliExpress to get involved or ruin their reputation.
Now, if the seller doesn’t respond/is giving you a bullshiz answer after 3 days of opening a dispute, you can file an official claim. More info here. AliExpress is notified of the issue and will aid you in the process.
More information about Dispute and Claims can be found here.
What is AliPay Escrow?
If you have done additional research, you may have read about the escrow service AliPay provides. What an escrow service provides is additional security because the seller is not given payment until the good is received and confirmed by the buyer. From my knowledge, AliPay doesn’t seem to offer that service on AliExpress anymore because it has been replaced with AliExpress’ Buyer Protection (discussed earlier in this guide). I came to this conclusion after finding it more difficult to find the old ‘AliPay Escrow’ page on AliExpress and speaking with their customer service. Now, I’m not 100% sure on this one, so if someone has better knowledge about it, let me know!
If you have any other questions you think weren’t answered in this guide, feel free to post a comment down below or to contact me! I’d be happy to help wherever I can 🙂
This was not a sponsored post, all thoughts and opinions are my own.