It’s not always easy to stay safe while you’re shopping online. For every legitimate and reputable site, hundreds want to take your money and run for the hills, never to be seen or heard from again.
If you want to stay safe, it’s important to research the site you’re making your purchases on. How does it protect buyers? Is it easy to avoid frauds and scams? How does the site handle disputes and refunds?
Today, we’re going to dive into the world of AliExpress and answer some of those questions. You may also find that as long as you’re a smart shopper, there are plenty of reasons to buy your tech from Chinese sites like AliExpress.
What Is AliExpress?
AliExpress is part of the Alibaba Group. The group is a Chinese eCommerce company that offers a variety of retail services to businesses and consumers around the world. In April 2016, it overtook Walmart to become the largest retailer in the world.
Alibaba launched it AliExpress subdivision in 2010. It’s an online-only company which sells mainly Chinese products. It functions more like eBay than Amazon: it’s a host platform that lets third-party companies sell their wares. It doesn’t sell products itself.
The site is the most popular e-commerce site in Russia and is also widely used throughout Latin America.
Buying online comes with inherent risks. Unlike doing your shopping in a physical store, you can’t see the item prior to purchase.
This removes a significant part of the buying process. You can’t feel a product to test for build quality or check an electronic item to make sure all the features work as described.
If you’re buying a well-known brand, you can read online reviews or even head to shop to negate the problem.
But in the case of AliExpress, where many of the cheap Chinese products are not available in stores, you’re on your own. Normally, you will be making your decision solely based on the description and a few photos. It’s vital, therefore, that the site has a robust buyer protection policy.
Luckily, it does.
The company offers two important guarantees:
- A full refund if you don’t receive your order — If the item does not show up, or even if it does not arrive within the timescale the seller specifies, you can apply for a full refund.
- A full or partial refund if the item is not as described — If your purchase differs significantly from what you expected, you have two options. You can either return the item for a full refund or keep the item and receive a partial refund.
Unfortunately, as with other eCommerce sites, getting a refund for a missing, defective, or incorrect item is not as simple as merely clicking a “Refund” button. There’s an entire dispute process you need to work through.
On AliExpress, the dispute process involves three steps:
First, you need to contact the seller and raise your issue directly with them. If you’re raising a dispute either before the order has been completed, or more than 15 days after completion, this is the only option open to you.
If you’re still in the pre-completion stage and the seller refuses to cooperate, you have to wait until the order is closed and raise the issue with AliExpress. Sadly, if you’re beyond the 15-day mark and the seller refuses to cooperate, you’re out of options.
Second, if you’re within the 15-day period and you’re not happy with the seller’s response, you can open a dispute ticket. This makes the process formal.
Third, if you’re unhappy with the formal discussions, you can escalate the issue to AliExpress. It will then act as a mediator between you and seller to reach a resolution.
Finding a Reputable Seller
The easiest way to avoid using the refund and dispute channels is to find a reputable seller. If thousands of satisfied customers have used the seller in the past, you’re far less likely to run into problems.
The Feedback Page
The most obvious way to check a seller is to look at their history. On any seller’s page, click the Feedback tab for a complete breakdown.
Each seller has a Positive Feedback percentage and Feedback Score. The Feedback Score is the sum of all ratings, converted into points. Four- and five-star ratings are worth one point, three stars are worth zero, and one- and two-star ratings deduct one point.
Further down the page, you can see star ratings sub-divided into Item as Described, Communication, and Shipping Speed. For each sub-category, you can see whether the seller in question is above or below the site average.
Lastly, at the bottom of the page, you’ll see a historical look at their scores along with buyer comments.
Sellers can also offer buyers specific safeguards. As a general rule, the more guarantees provided, the more confident you can be in your purchase.
Sellers offer guarantees on a per-item basis. Just because they offer lots of assurances on one product doesn’t mean the same assurances are replicated across their entire catalog. Make sure you do thorough research before you commit.
There are four different guarantees sellers can offer:
- On-Time Delivery — The seller promises to provide a full refund if your purchase does not arrive by a pre-agreed time.
- Returns and Refund — The seller promises to offer a full refund if the product is not as described
- Domestic Returns — The seller has a warehouse in your country. You can send returns to it without needing to worry about shipping costs or customs fees.
- Guaranteed Genuine — If you’re buying a big-ticket electronic item, this is one to look out for. It means the item has been verified as genuine by AliExpress itself.
To see which guarantees are provided for an individual item, check for the Buyer Protection information in the Quick Info part of the product page, or click the Seller Guarantees tab below the product image.
Be a Smart Shopper to Avoid Fraud
No matter how much security the site puts in place, you always need to take some responsibility for your own actions.
AliExpress offers some helpful hints to make sure you avoid fraudulent sales. Most of them are common sense, but it’s still prudent to recap some of them:
- If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Sorry, but you’re not going to get the latest iPhone for $10. You’re probably buying an iPhone keyring instead. Check the small print.
- Never send money to a seller’s bank account. If a seller wants you to send money directly to them rather than through AliExpress, do not proceed. Sending money outside of AliExpress means the site will not cover you under its buyer protection policies.
- Do not confirm delivery before receiving the order. Never say you’ve received an item before it’s in your possession and you’ve thoroughly checked it for problems.
AliExpress Is Safe
Chinese products often have an unfair reputation for being cheap and poor quality. It’s not true. Many of the products on AliExpress are well made and available for a fraction of the cost of what you would pay for an equivalent item in the shops of North America or Europe.
Have you bought an item off AliExpress? What was your experience like? Have you ever had to use the dispute channels? You can let us know all your stories in the comments section below.