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The Chinese online retailer Alibaba is using AliExpress to expand its reach outside of Asia and challenge online giants like Amazon and eBay… but is it safe to shop there? Are there any security vulnerabilities you should know about? Is AliExpress secure? And are you more likely to be the victim of fraud or counterfeiting if you shop there? Here are the answers you need.

What Is AliExpress?

If you’re not familiar with AliExpress, here’s a quick primer: it’s a huge online retailer owned by The Alibaba Group, a multi-billion dollar corporation that started as a business-to-business buying and selling portal. It has since expanded to business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer, cloud computing, and payment services, as well.

To give you an idea of just how big Alibaba is, they reported over $14 billion in sales on Singles’ Day, 11 November, 2015.

AliExpress-homepage

AliExpress is Alibaba’s online marketplace aimed primarily at international buyers. It allows small businesses in China to sell to customers all over the world, and, just like Amazon, you can find just about anything there. It might be more accurate to compare AliExpress to eBay, though, as sellers are independent; it simply serves as a host for other businesses to sell to consumers.

Why Is AliExpress So Cheap?

If you browse some of the products on AliExpress, you’ll probably notice right away that many of the prices are really low and wonder why. There are two different distinct possibilities, both of which you’ll find in abundance on the site.

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rpi-starter-AliExpress

First, there’s the possibility that you’re buying directly from a manufacturer, which reduces the cost of selling to you. Costs for production in China, in many cases, are quite a bit lower than they are in other countries, and the lax enforcement of intellectual property laws may also contribute. A lot of electronics (like the 4WD Arduino robot How to Build a 4WD Arduino Robot for Beginners How to Build a 4WD Arduino Robot for Beginners Read More I built) have fantastic prices on AliExpress, because they’re made in China and you can buy them direct.

rpi-starter-amazon

The second possibility that an item is extremely cheap is that its either counterfeit or fraudulent (or semi-fraudulent, as in the case of the GooPhone I5 How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones? How to spot an iPhony! Are GooPhones as Good as iPhones? Do you own an iPhone 5? Or do you wish you could own Apple’s latest but can't afford the ridiculous cost? It may surprise you to hear that the iPhone 5 has a cheap knock-off... Read More ). China is known as a hotbed of counterfeit production, and AliExpress is no exception. You can get all sorts of counterfeit items there, from electronics to clothing. Some sellers have also been known to defraud buyers by tricking them into paying before they receive an item and then disappearing with the money.

Of course, being able to tell the difference is crucial.

Security Vulnerabilities in AliExpress

Over the past few years, only one high-profile security vulnerability has been revealed in AliExpress. Last year, there was a cross-site scripting What's Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), & Why It Is A Security Threat What's Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), & Why It Is A Security Threat Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities are the biggest website security problem today. Studies have found they’re shockingly common – 55% of websites contained XSS vulnerabilities in 2011, according to White Hat Security’s latest report, released in June... Read More (XSS) vulnerability discovered — the same problem that eBay is having How to Stay Safe from eBay's Newest Security Vulnerability How to Stay Safe from eBay's Newest Security Vulnerability A security vulnerability is putting eBay users in danger, but the auction website has issued only a partial fix, instead of a complete one. So what is the vulnerability, and how can you stay safe? Read More right now. This vulnerability would have allowed attackers to reveal some browsers’ personal information, and the researchers behind the revelation made it clear that a huge amount of data could have been scraped very quickly if the bug hadn’t been caught.

Beyond that, I haven’t been able to find reports of any vulnerabilities in AliExpress’s systems. Of course, not every vulnerability would be publicized, but this most recent XSS problem is by far the most glaring error on the record. And, according to the researchers who discovered the vulnerability, once AliExpress was made aware of it, they took it seriously and fixed it quickly.

Unfortunately, the researchers also reported that it took them a very long time to get in contact with anyone at the company, which is worrying, especially given the seriousness of the vulnerability.

Because AliExpress relies heavily on Alipay, Alibaba’s international payment system, there’s potential cause for worry there too, but Alipay also seems to be well-secured. After a vulnerability was reported in its mobile app that allowed in-app phishing What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More , it fixed the issue in about six weeks. Not stellar as fast as issue-fixing speed goes, but still not terrible.

The Real Danger: Fraudsters

AliExpress and Alipay are solid systems when it comes to security. They’re not invincible, but nothing is — and their track record is a good one, so you can be confident that you’re not more likely to have any of your information stolen via one of these services than you are using a more familiar service like Amazon or eBay (remember, even eBay has had a massive data leak The eBay Data Breach: What You Need To Know The eBay Data Breach: What You Need To Know Read More ).

However, there is one gaping hole in AliExpress: the merchant approval process. I can’t say what sort of process there is, as only merchants from mainland China are allowed to sell on the site, but there have been a lot of reports of scams on the site. So many, in fact, that the AliExpress Security Center has a section of fraud case studies and tips on how to avoid fraud when buying from their site.

fraud-case-study

So how do you stay safe from fraudsters and scammers when shopping on AliExpress? The same way you do everywhere else. Here are four tips — if you follow them, you should have no problems.

1. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This is how scammers get you; they reel you in with the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime deal (this is one of the strategies used in the recent spate of eBay fraud 5 eBay Scams To Be Aware Of 5 eBay Scams To Be Aware Of Being scammed sucks, especially on eBay. You invest all of that time into selling a particular product or you spend a lot of time researching the perfect item, complete the transaction, and then… nothing. The... Read More ). Check other sites to see what the going rate is for whatever you want to buy to make sure that the price on AliExpress isn’t far too low. If it is extremely low, you’re probably buying a counterfeit product or being set up for a scam.

2. Use Alipay’s Escrow service.

aliexpress-escrow

Escrow protects you in a number of ways. First, your credit card details aren’t given to the seller, so you don’t have to worry about them stealing your identity or going on a shopping spree with your card How Credit Card Fraud Works, And How To Stay Safe How Credit Card Fraud Works, And How To Stay Safe Despite what you may have heard, credit cards do get stolen, and credit card fraud happens, online and offline. But how does a thief get your card number, and how can you keep it safe? Read More . Second, the payment isn’t released to the seller until you’ve confirmed that you’ve received your purchase. So if you get scammed, you can just get an easy refund from AliExpress, and not have to go through the long, painful, and probably hopeless refund process with the seller.

3. Check the seller’s feedback before buying.

anker-store-feedback

If a seller has a bad reputation for defrauding buyers, there will likely be evidence in their feedback and reviews. Be wary of sellers with any mentions of not delivering or sending sub-par goods. In the time I’ve spent on AliExpress, I’ve seen mostly positive reviews, and I’ve never had a problem getting what I’ve ordered. But it’s still important to be on the lookout.

4. Check your order carefully when you receive it.

Because the escrow system allows you to withhold payment until you’ve received your order, you can confirm that you got what you paid for. Make sure everything is included, that it looks like what you ordered, and that, if you bought a brand-name item, it doesn’t look like a fake.

AliExpress: Safe If You’re Careful

When it comes down to it, the evidence says that shopping on AliExpress is indeed safe, as long as you’re careful, and this is the case with any other online marketplace. Some, like Amazon, offer you more protections than others, but if you’re willing to pay attention to what you’re doing to save a lot of money, AliExpress is a fantastic option.

Do you shop on AliExpress? What has your experience been? Have you ever had to request a refund? Share your experiences in the comments below!

  1. Christine
    December 7, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Have have purchased a lot from AliExpress only had a problem with one dealer AliExpress looked into it and we got a refund other than that we've had a great run with AliExpress

    • Dann Albright
      December 10, 2016 at 12:12 am

      That's great! It's good to hear about positive experiences with them. Seems like it can really be hit-or-miss.

  2. Amc
    October 10, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Have made over one purchases for aliexpress, most turn out to be very reliable and quality products, have had about five dodgy purchase, but I'm miles in front with saving over all to make buying there worthwhile.

    • Dann Albright
      October 21, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      That's true; saving a lot over multiple purchases can offset the one or two that turn out to be crap. Good point!

  3. joann
    August 12, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I have a few online accounts. Aliexpress is cheaper than Ebay or Amazon on a lot of items but not all. The service is very bad especially the live chat customer service cannot do anything for you. They are just for show. You will need to file a dispute at the end. The first process takes 1 week, the seller will again message to you to solve. The second week, Aliexpress will take another week to step in. If you did not receive your item yet case, then you will have to wait for 1 month process. After he case is resolved, the refund is another delay and can be 1-2 months although they claims to be 15 business days max. I find the sellers on Aliexpress are very bad mannered and more likely to cheat you than other online. Aliexpress software are the worse of all these online accounts I have. I would say Aliexpress are the worse rank of online seller but their lower price charges to seller make them competitive.
    Ebay USA are in the second place of customer service, refund time, process time and less bad sellers. If you have another country account other than USA account, then the service are very bad. They are just slightly better Aliexpress.
    Amazon is the best of all in terms of very little bad sellers, better service, better refund and better process time. The only problem is the price is a little bit higher than others on most items, not all.
    There few other websites that are better than Aliexpress but they are slightly a little bit higher price on most things. Sometimes you have to pay a little bit more for service and ensure your item is not a reject QC item. Aliexpress sellers like to sell scraps because Aliexpress is not strict on them.
    I find all of these online webs just want to earn money and less care if buyers are cheated.

    • Dann Albright
      October 21, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I think you're right about customer service; AliExpress has a pretty bad reputation for that. I guess it's a trade-off between service and price. There's pretty much no beating AE on price, though the international shipping can take a long time.

  4. Lulu
    August 12, 2016 at 3:59 am

    Very useful review. Thanks

  5. mtvcop
    July 13, 2016 at 6:40 am

    I have a bit of experience shopping direct from China on Ebay and now Ali-express. I have had one slightly bad experience from an Ebay seller, so far nothing but good experiences from Ali-express. Given that the prices on Ali-X are WAY lower than either Amazon or Ebay, and that many Chinese sellers seem to be more comfortable dealing with a Chinese middleman, I don't see a good case for using any other retail site for Chinese-made goods. And if three weeks for shipping is a problem, just remember that it's free, even for small purchases.

    • Dann Albright
      October 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      That's a good point; it's all about trade-offs. You can save a huge amount of money, but it's going to take a while to get to you, and there's always the possibility of having a bad transaction. That said, it seems like a great way to get Chinese-made goods from elsewhere in the world.

  6. Alex
    June 24, 2016 at 6:45 am

    Just having a nightmare with a seller "Super E Times", stay away from this seller as far as you can. I purchased an item from them, paid in full. The next day seller informed me that the item is out of stock, and requested me to cancel the deal. So I did cancel the order. But then the seller rejected my cancellation order for no reason and refuse to return my money for no reason. Ali express can't do anything about this bad seller, so please stay away from them.

    • Dann Albright
      June 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Ech, that's rough. Like any other marketplace, you're going to run into problems. Sorry you had to deal with that!

  7. Suzette
    May 25, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I've purchased numerous items through ali. NOT ALLL GOOOD.....NOT ALL BAD. Yesterday, I received a pair of shoes I'd been waiting for like 8 weeks! Sooo excited to wear them. Hmmmm......2 left shoes!!! Not a shoe for my right foot. I hit dispute. Sent pictures. They just sent me a message stating "I think they are the right shoes." Urghhh.....I asked him if he was blind. I did NOT want a refund, but merely the right shoe. They are fighting me on it. They only reason most of those stores have a HIGH feedback score is because they bully the buyer into leaving them 5 stsrs!! I opened dispute on a pair I did not receive. Well, stupid me went and ordered 2 more pair. Not realizing it was the same store, ANY way, they TOOK my money and NEVER shipped the shoes. They said they will give me a refund when I get them 5 stars! I could go on, but I won't !!!
    Buyer Beware!!!

    • Dann Albright
      May 25, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      That's rough. It's really tough to know if you're going to be working with a good seller or not, especially if feedback scores aren't accurate. I've never ordered anything other than electronics from AliExpress, and I don't actually know many people who have—that could be part of the issue. Anyway, yes, buyer beware is definitely relevant for the site. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  8. Wayne Lee
    March 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks for the informative article. I've suspected the points in your article but haven't done the research. One question still lingers in the China merchandise. What about human rights violations to make these produce cheaper such as using children and forced labor?

    • Dann Albright
      March 29, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Well, that's a whole nother issue that would require a lot of investigation. It all depends on who you buy from, I suppose, and I don't know that there's much you can do to find out if you buy from somewhere like AliExpress. However, I feel like most of the things you're likely to buy elsewhere were probably made in China, too, and could have the same issues.

      Good thinking point.

  9. KrishnaChaitanya
    March 8, 2016 at 3:46 am

    It took more than 35 days for the product which I ordered to get shipped. Prices may be low for the product, but keep an eye on the shipping charges, which would add up and make the product more expensive. But some times we have no choice as the product we are looking for is available only on AliExpress but no where else.

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:30 am

      Yeah, AliExpress shipping isn't great. In fact, sometimes it's downright awful. But if you can grab a product with a reasonable shipping cost and you don't need it right away, it could be worth it.

      I wouldn't hold out for better shipping practices any time soon—I imagine it's just too expensive.

  10. zxcdf
    March 7, 2016 at 6:08 am

    I never got my delivered items being sent by ordinary china post - waited 4 months in total :( even after taking care of vendor's rating and all

  11. Mike
    March 6, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Why Escrow? Just pay by Credit Card and Chargeback if not received!

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:29 am

      Because chargebacks are a pain in the ass. :-)

      And this way you don't have to get in touch with your bank and go through that whole process. It doesn't really take any extra time, either. Definitely seems like the best choice. Also, you use your credit card for the escrow payment.

  12. GeekLabsCa
    March 5, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    If only they could speed up the shipping times. If they did that they would lead the online store market. Ordered a few times from there and no issues so far

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:28 am

      Yeah, that would make a huge difference. Especially with Prime's two-day shipping making everything so fast right now. It's tough to beat that, even with significantly lower prices.

  13. Mike
    March 5, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I use a similar online retailer from China called DealExtreme. I haven't bought anything expensive yet,but my only complaint with them is glacial delivery times.

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:27 am

      I've never heard of DealExtreme—how do they compare on the number of products offered? What made you use the site in the first place?

      And yes, super slow delivery is a concern not just for DealExtreme, but pretty much any Chinese marketplace that I've heard of (which isn't all that many, but it does seem pretty consistent). Could be because shipping of any type other than "it'll get there someday" would probably be crazy expensive.

  14. sanjay kumar
    March 5, 2016 at 6:41 am

    you should also mention that there are a lot ,lot .lot of products when compares to any other products. For myseld i would be stuck in ali viewing tach gadgets for hours

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:25 am

      That's true—the site is absolutely massive. I don't know the stats on how big it is compared to any other sites, but I can see how it would be really easy to get stuck looking at the same thing from different sellers for a long time. Choice paralysis is real!

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