Is AliExpress Safe and Legit? Alibaba’s Online Shop Explained
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AliExpress is the international arm of the Chinese retailing giant AliBaba, aiming to challenge online giants like Amazon and eBay.

But is it safe to shop there? How long will items take to arrive, and what happens if they don’t? Is AliExpress legit? And are you more likely to be the victim of fraud 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 $25 billion in sales on Singles’ Day (November 11) 2017.

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is Alibaba’s online consumer marketplace for international buyers (while TaoBao is for China). It allows small businesses in China to sell to customers all over the world. Just like Amazon, you can find just about anything there. Unlike Amazon, all of the sellers on AliExpress are a third party: AliExpress itself does not sell anything. They just provide the marketplace.

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. Why is this? There are two different distinct possibilities, both of which you’ll find in abundance on the site.

aliexpress raspberry pi bundle bargain

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 are quite a bit lower than in other countries. The lax enforcement of intellectual property laws may also contribute. A lot of electronics (like this 4WD Arduino robot How to Build a 4WD Arduino Robot for Beginners How to Build a 4WD Arduino Robot for Beginners Read More we built) have fantastic prices on AliExpress, because they’re made in China and you can buy them direct, avoiding the retail markup added by a middle-man.

The second possibility for an item being 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.

How Long Does AliExpress Take to Deliver?

All items on AliExpress have an estimated delivery time on the product page, and it’s usually anywhere from 20 to 60 days. Yes, two months is an awfully long time to wait for something you’ve bought online! In my experience, about two weeks is the average time it takes most items to arrive, but you certainly need patience to buy direct from China.

AliExpress delivery time estimate

Be aware that this will be even slower at certain times of the year, like Chinese New Year (around the start of February), and Single’s Day (11/11). I once made the mistake of buying some Christmas presents during the Single’s Day sale: a few of them didn’t arrive until the middle of January.

Nearly all shipments (even those with free shipping) will have a tracking number once shipped, but it may take a week to actually dispatch before a tracking number is added. After that, you should be able to follow the package as it floats around various Chinese postal centers, and after a long wait, arrives in your local country’s customs clearance office.

AliExpress delivery tracking example

If you don’t have a tracking number after 10 days, you should reach out to the seller. You won’t be able to open an official non-delivery dispute until the maximum delivery time has been exceeded though.

In six years and thousands of dollars worth of shopping on AliExpress, I’ve only had to open two cases for non-delivery. One could be tracked to my local customs office, but had been sitting there for a month. The seller offered to send it again, and sure enough, I actually received both packages about a month later. Another was never dispatched, and there was no tracking number. AliExpress issued a full refund.

The Hidden Cost of AliExpress: Import Taxes

If you’re new to having an item shipped to your country from abroad, you may not have a clear idea of the import taxes involved; or that sellers will often attempt to bypass those taxes on your behalf.

Nearly all countries have an import tax: a percentage value of the cost of the goods being imported that must be paid to your government when bringing something into the country. In the EU, this is a 20% VAT that’s levied on nearly everything. It’s your legal responsibility to pay this, and the shipping company will pay on your behalf, then issue you the bill. They’ll also charge you a handling fee for the privilege; that’s another flat rate $10-15. Of course, this means that a $10 bargain gadget may not be such a bargain once the $2 tax and $10 handling fee is added on.

Many people are shocked to find these hidden charges, and end up leaving a bad review for the seller. As a consequence, you’ll find most sellers will automatically mark any packages as a low value “gift”, bypassing import duties. To be clear: this is illegal. You should pay your taxes. But unless you’re trying to pull off a large scale fraud, it’s not the sort of illegal which will actually land you in trouble.

Note that if you were trying to deliberately import something without paying the duty, you would need to do so using the slow, free shipping method. Express couriers like DHL have stricter rules and won’t carry packages marked as a gift. If something can only be shipped by express, factor in at least another 20% of the cost to pay on arrival before your package can be released.

What About AliExpress’s Quality of Goods?

In most cases, the goods you buy will be the same as those in the high street. However, sometimes you may find yourself unhappy with the product. For instance, perhaps the thickness of material for that dress is not as you expected. In that case, you should be realistic when contacting the sellers.

Unless there’s something specific in the listing that you can point to as being incorrect, simply not liking the goods you bought is not a good reason to demand a refund. So what can you do if you’re not happy?

  • Chalk it up to experience, and don’t buy from that seller again. If the item was actually delivered, and the product description and photo are accurate, AliExpress themselves won’t assist.
  • You might be able to negotiate a partial refund. If your first instinct was to review the product as 1-star, this is almost certainly no longer an option. Ratings are important, and may be your only bargaining tool.
  • You might be tempted to return the goods, but be very careful with this. Shipping something back to China may cost more than you paid for the item in the first place, and that cost won’t be refunded. Tracking items sent back into China is unreliable at best, and sometimes they can just disappear entirely at the Chinese customs office.

Be realistic about the price you’re paying. Check out some YouTube videos for an idea of the kind of quality to expect (apparently, “AliExpress haul videos” is a thing now).

The Real Danger of AliExpress: 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 no 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).

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 Chinese sites Why You Should Buy Your Tech From China (And How to Do It Safely) Why You Should Buy Your Tech From China (And How to Do It Safely) There are some good reasons to buy tech products and gadgets from China instead of, say, Amazon. Here's what you need to know. Read More like 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

Scammers 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 10 eBay Scams to Be Aware Of 10 eBay Scams to Be Aware Of Being scammed sucks, especially on eBay. You invest so much time into selling a product or researching the perfect item, complete the transaction, and then… nothing. Do you know when you’re being scammed? 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. For non-branded goods, savings of up to 75% compared to a high street retail store are not unusual.

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. Once you’ve marked an item as received, you have 15 days in which you can still open a dispute about the goods.

5. Never Buy Branded Goods on AliExpress

Branded goods are offered special protection in most countries. If you purchase fake goods, and your package is inspected, they will be seized. If you bought a lot of those goods and it looks like you might be trying to sell them on, expect a knock at the door from customs officials.

6. Be Careful With Storage and Memory Components

It’s a common scam even if you’re buying from a Shenzhen market stall, but even easier to pull off online. You buy a memory stick that reports itself to be 64Gb when put into Windows Explorer, but it’s actually a lot less. The firmware has been hacked, but you won’t know until you actually try to use the whole drive. The scammer is long gone with your money.

If you’re willing to risk it anyway, be sure to test the drive with a tool like h2TestW as soon as you receive it.

So, Is AliExpress Safe to Shop On?

The evidence suggests that shopping on AliExpress is indeed safe. However, be careful and be realistic. This is the same for 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.

Explore more about: Online Security, Online Shopping.

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  1. Alice
    September 28, 2018 at 1:49 am

    I am billed by u people have not order r received anything how do I get refined for this

    • James Bruce
      September 28, 2018 at 7:12 am

      "You people..."? We are not AliExpress.

      I would suggest logging into your AliExpress account and checking on the status of your order. It can take up to a month or more for an item to arrive from China.

  2. Dru
    September 19, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    I used to buy a lot of stuff from Aliexpress until I realized I could get the same stuff at least at the same price but usually cheaper on eBay, which gives you the purchase protection that comes with purchases on eBay. On a rare occasion I will still go back Aliexpress usually it is for items that are not as popular in the US and it is always worth checking the price differences.

  3. Mandi
    September 19, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    This is great info. Thank you for posting. In creating my AliExpress account password, I was prevented from using special characters, which would add to the security of the account, and the pw length is also limited to 20 chars.

    • Alice
      September 28, 2018 at 1:51 am

      I would not order from these people they r crooks

      • James Bruce
        September 28, 2018 at 7:10 am

        You realise how ridiculous it is to disparage an entire network of third party sellers?

  4. Jeffrey holmes
    March 15, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    I freakin love Aliexpress I can buy any (old) laptop/PC part or any tech part instead of going to shenzhen tech market in person and it most of the time free shipping ??

  5. Gummy T
    January 22, 2018 at 12:41 am

    I shopped on Aliexpress for the first time and bought a Nitecore flashtorch. The product is excellent but to claim the 5-year global warranty, you need an official purchase receipt and a warranty card with a store stamp. The seller couldn't provide any of that so I lodged a dispute with Aliexpress. Guess what the verdict is? Aliexpress Customer Service ruled that warranty is only an "accessory" and there is therefore invalid! This also means that if the charger is missing, they will be happy to declare the transaction completed "successfully" even if you can't charge your torch. Apparently they have no idea what warranty really means. Imagine you buy a car that comes with manufacturer's warranty, the seller refuses to issue a purchase receipt. You then take the matter to the relevant regulatory authority whose officials tell you that the car warranty is an "accessory" and the dealer has no duty to disclose prior to selling the car or issue an invoice/receipt. It's like letting an ignorant guy do a judge's job.

  6. Bettina Daw
    January 19, 2018 at 3:41 am

    Have been shopping with Aliexpress for awhile now.products are good except for clothing,l go up in sizing like they tell you but most is still a size or 2 still too small.a tshirt never arrived to Australia,seller kept telling me to wait but it was over 2 months overdue so Aliexpress stepped in&did full refund

  7. mike
    September 28, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Be careful very careful ! starts off good all smiles when u get yr product and it works when none of these happen watch out! truth about ali they just want yr money!!!!!! whether or not product fits its purpose or you get it they not too concerned they in mainland china what u gonna do fly over weekend get a refund. Dispute process very suspicious ali seems to support seller! Just remember in china not customer always right! Seller is always right!

    had 3 issues now aliexpress in 3 weeks 2 tech products sent to me both faulty to get refund pay lot of money send it all way back to china myself but then can trust em refund me?
    3rd product brought seller advertised ship in 24 hours after 2 weeks no shipment no tracking info inquire seller, takes very long time to reply almost seem does not want to answer me after 2 or 3 days replys back will send asap!
    Inquire again with the seller will I be able to track my parcel seller says sorry out of stock!!!!! 1 day after he told me he was shipping it! Option to cancel order available for buyer choose option stated reason no product? Option cancel i found out subject to seller approval my request seller would not allow me to release my money!!!! Even though he was out of stock. seller would not reply for request of when new stockng arriving only after ali complaints dep contacted him did he reply back! Just be careful I will not buy at ali ever again sellers not trustworthy ali not supportive of customers when they have problems! Believe me I am not a disgruntled customer this is not only my exp but exp of all buyers will not reccommend just end up losing yr money and sleep and time dont trust!,!!,!! these crooks strong word but ali and sellers they not concerned abut a customer in orange county usa when they dont get their product as long as they get paid its scam ali should be reported on . I will make a report to my government its serious.

  8. Cynthia
    September 16, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    I'm having an issue paying for an item on AliExpress. None of my credit cards are able to get through, though they do all work properly. Any ideas?

  9. Mimi
    July 31, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Hey I'm going to buy an Elie Saab dress on AliExpress for $280. Do you think it is worth it and will be good quality.

  10. LP
    June 22, 2017 at 7:17 am

    I'm a little confused how the Escrow service works on AliExpress. Is it automatically something apart of AliExpress or do you need to set it up within AliExpress before purchasing, or do you need to go through a sort of service outside of the website? Thanks.

  11. stuart
    June 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I have made 1 purchase from Aliexpress and all I can say is never again.

    I purchased an alloy case for my Gopro camera. The seller sent me a Paypal invoice, which I paid and the case arrived a couple of weeks later. NOTHING LIKE THE ITEM ON ALIEXPRESS.

    I mailed the sellr straight away, and have done so several times since, advising I have received a case that I did not order. No response.

    I contacted Aliexpress customer service, and they too have contacted the seller, again no response. It seems they are not interested as I paid via Paypal.

    Buyers beware, once they have your money, they become very silent.

    sticking to Ebay going forward

  12. Lauren
    May 15, 2017 at 2:32 am

    Should I buy anything from Aliexpress or not?

  13. Carl Douglas
    March 1, 2017 at 7:02 am

    Aliexpress does honour their purchase protection. However if a problem arises and the seller offers an alternative solution, you lose all purchase protection if you accept it. Long story short. If a problem arises just get your money back.

  14. Shahjahan
    February 19, 2017 at 5:19 am

    Don't buy from aliexpress. They always favour seller rather than buyer. It takes long time to receive the item .

  15. Alain
    February 14, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    I've done a lot of purchases from Aliexpress Most of them cheaper parts and never had an issues. Shipping is a little longer then normal but you do get good deals and well worth the wait. You do have to watch some of the sellers but those types of sellers can be found anywhere . Recommend Ali express to anyone I know

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.