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Alibaba vs Aliexpress: What is the Best Dropshipping Platform?

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By Sam Nguyen

CEO Avada Commerce

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In recent years, Aliexpress has been dominating the dropshipping segment. It is one of the biggest sources for businesses to dropship products at the lowest possible price. However, the process is not always that easy. Dropshippers have experienced all kinds of trouble such as defective products, uncooperative sellers, late shipments, so on and so forth.

When you dropship, you don’t own the supply chain, you don’t own the product, but they have a direct impact on your reputation and bottom line. If the product arrives in poor quality, the customer blames you. If the product arrives late, the customer blames you. If the customer doesn’t receive their order at all, they blame you. And what will you get as a result? Unhappy customers and bad reviews.

When it comes to dropshipping, your reputation is everything because you directly handle the marketing and sales of the product. Sales and marketing without a good reputation mean no customers.

Please keep in mind that while Aliexpess is a dominator when it comes to dropshipping, it does give dropshippers lots of trouble. There are many scams and unreliable suppliers on this platform. So, if a dropshipper has experienced too many headaches with Aliexpess, what can be the alternative? Is it Alibaba? Let’s continue reading this Alibaba dropship vs Aliexpress dropship reviews article and figuring this out.

1. Alibaba vs. Aliexpress: The difference:

Alibaba vs. Aliexpress

1.1. Alibaba and the way it works:

Alibaba, founded by Jack Ma, the infamous businessman who laid the foundation for Ecommerce in China, is a B2B (Business to Business) platform that connects global businesses to Chinese manufacturers. It is now the world’s leading B2B platform for wholesale trade.

Alibaba has there children websites that are alibaba.com (English site), taobao.com and tmall.com (Chinese sites). Across these three platforms, there are hundreds of millions of products currently listed in over thirty-five categories including consumer electronics, clothing, accessories, to name a few. These platforms are visited by buyers from all over the world every year. Many small to medium businesses go to Alibaba to find suppliers, and dropshippers are among them.

How Does Alibaba Work?

Unlike Amazon who does own inventory and supplies it directly to consumers, Alibaba is not an inventory holder; it just acts as a middleman. Items on Alibaba are sold in bulk, and all of its users are wholesalers instead of consumers (Taobao and Tmall users are mostly consumers).

It doesn’t cost anything to open a store on Alibaba, but Alibaba can still make money (lots of it) by charging Chinese suppliers and manufacturers an amount of fees for something called “Gold Supplier”. This label is super important if a supplier is serious in selling his/ her products to international buyers. This label is partially similar to Google Adwords. With Adwords, you stand a chance to appear on the first page of the SERPs. With Alibaba Gold Supplier, you can stand a chance to get to show up on the front page of Alibaba search results. Otherwise, you will be on page 100th.

1.2. Aliexpress and the way it works:

Aliexpress is also a division of Alibaba, and it’s a global retail marketplace (Taobao and Tmall are mostly used by Chinese consumers). You might notice that Alibaba has a division for every aspect of commerce, and it has a service to serve you no matter who you are. That’s why it’s so big.

Aliexpress was launched in 2010, and it allows international consumers to buy directly from Chinese suppliers.

How Does Aliexpress Work?

Aliexpress is known for offering products at a much lower price than Amazon and other sites that also sell products manufactured in China. It costs just pennies or even nothing to ship from Aliexpress, but it can take up to a month for your orders to arrive, and tracking details are not always provided. However, you won’t lose your money because Alibaba will refund your payment to you if the supplier you bought from turns out to be a scam.

You can find all sorts of items on Aliexpress such as fashion apparel, toys, consumer electronics, beauty products and so on.

Every dropshipper knows about Alibaba and Aliexpress, but you need to make sure you fully understand the differences between these two platforms, as well as the pros and cons of using them.

2. Alibaba vs. AliExpress: How to find dropshipping suppliers for your business from China?

Alibaba vs. Aliexpress: find dropshipping suppliers

2.1. Aliexpress:

Can you Dropship with Aliexpress?

Yes. Aliexpress has a dropshipping plugin called Alidropship. This is an automated solution whose process is similar to the traditional dropshipping model, but it also offers support services such as software development and marketing consultancy.

Use code GETPLUGIN10 to get AliDropship plugin with a 10% discount; and code GETSTORE10 to get with 10% OFF a ready custom store!

Is it safe to drop ship with Aliexpress?

Yes, this is a reliable service that is used by thousands of dropshipping businesses around the world. Aliexpress helps dropshippers bring products to direct consumers at a much lower price than Amazon or eBay.

Also, as I mentioned above, you won’t lose your money to scams when you dropship with Aliexpress because the platform has policies to protect dropshippers (such as refunding). Every product on Alibaba has clear images, descriptions and buying instructions, so you will know exactly what you’re dealing with.

AliExpress won’t charge you any upfront fees to start dropshipping, so you have the freedom to experiment with product choices and pricing at no risk.

How can you dropship with Aliexpress?

If you want to dropship using Aliexpress, you will need to have a standalone functional website. Aliexpress then will provide you with a plugin to add on to your site. After that, you can start dropshipping easily by adding products, prices, descriptions, and so on.

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2.2. Alibaba:

Can you dropship with Alibaba?

The answer is NO. Alibaba is a B2B platform, so its users are mostly B2B buyers who buy in huge bulk. Alibaba doesn’t make efforts to sell one item at a time because it already has Aliexpress.

When you go to Alibaba, every supplier has a minimum order requirement, and you will have to buy out the inventory. If you have to buy inventory, the business becomes retail, not dropshipping anymore. But,

Can you use Alibaba to assist your Dropshipping?

The answer is yes. There are several ways you can use Alibaba to assist your dropshipping business.

  • Look for product ideas

If you have not figured out what is potential to sell, Alibaba is displaying tons of hot-selling products on its front page on a daily basis. You can go there and see what you can sell in your market.

  • Check out pricing level

On Aliexpress, you will get Dropshipping pricing which is higher than retail pricing but still more expensive than wholesale pricing. There are loads of different prices for any certain product on Aliexpress, so if you want to find out how much is reasonable, go to Alibaba and check that product out first, you will have an idea of the margins that Aliexpress suppliers are charging.

  • Connect with the same sellers on AliExpress

Many Chinese suppliers sell their products both to other businesses and the end consumers, so they sell on both Aliexpress and Alibaba. These suppliers are highly reliable because of their presence on both platforms (really, no scams spending money to just appear on Alibaba and Aliexpress). These suppliers use Alibaba to work with companies, and when someone asks for small orders, they direct that lead to their Aliexpress division.

If you find a certain product that you like on Alibaba, you can reach out to the seller and ask if they sell on Aliexpress, or you can just go to Aliexpress and search for that supplier.

3. Why should you choose Aliexpress for dropshipping?

choose Aliexpress for dropshipping

So, it is not viable to dropship with Alibaba, so the only option that is left here is Aliexpress. But why should you use Aliexpress for your dropshipping business?

Here are the main reasons why AliExpress stands out.

  • Low prices even for retail

One of the things that Aliexpress is well known for is its low prices. This is why it is so appealing to international buyers. Even better, you can get these low-cost items to your customers without having to stock hundreds of items. In other words, you don’t have to withstand the risk of products not selling.

  • No minimum order requirements

This is why Aliexpress is the best choice for dropshipping. There’s no minimum order quantity (MOQ) at all. Your customer can just buy one item, and you also can buy that one item from the supplier, and have it shipped directly to the customer. There’s no need for asking your customers to place orders that are more than x dollars, and there’s also no need for keeping physical stock.

  • Convenient product search

You really can get lost easily on Alibaba as there are millions of products and thousands of suppliers displaying their products on that platform. It’s a lot less crowded on Aliexpress. You can try searching for the same product on both platforms, and you will understand instantly which platform has a better and more convenient product filtering functionality.

  • Customer-oriented communication

Aliexpress is designed with the end consumers in mind, so it’s very easy and convenient to reach out and talk to a supplier on this platform. You can express timely reply from an Aliexpress seller, and you can also expect an easy refund process from Aliexpress suppliers if your customers get defective products (provided that you’re partnering with a reliable supplier).

  • Aliexpress suppliers are welcoming dropshippers

You will notice that, on Aliexpress, in the description of many product pages, there’s a greeting saying something like “Welcome dropshippers!”. This greeting is self-explanatory.

Most Chinese suppliers on Aliexpress are happy to work with dropshippers because this partnership will give them another regular flow of orders while they’re losing nothing working with dropshippers. These suppliers are retailers themselves, which is why they don’t mind selling you one unit of their product.

Also, Aliexpress suppliers will not ask for your business license or anything similar because you will need to pay them before they ship their product. So, you won’t have to have an official business registration to dropship with Aliexpress.

4. Things you should ask your suppliers beforehand:

Things to ask suppliers on Alibaba and Aliexpress

As there are many ways that you can evaluate whether a dropship supplier, you should keep a checklist of questions that you should ask any potential supplier before you decide you will partner with them. Again, choosing the right supplier is the key to building a successful dropshipping business; you will not want late delivery and defective products to ruin your reputation and the entire business.

Question 1: Do you sell directly to the end consumers?

Reliable dropship suppliers usually have an established business where they sell directly to the end consumers either in their local area or in foreign countries before you come. Of course, they will sell to you at a lower price than to their consumers.

Question 2: Will you do business with a first-time dropship business owner?

Many dropship suppliers don’t because they have grown so big, and they also have a large number of experienced dropshippers who they are partnering with, so they don’t want to work with first-time dropshippers; that’s understandable. You will need to ask this question as a greeting to save time for both you and the supplier. Some suppliers will accept first-time dropshippers, but there will be gatekeepers such as a business plan, an EIN, a business model that you need to have before you can proceed further with them. This basically means you’ll need to prove to them that although you’re small, you are a potential partner.

Question 3: Do you charge a monthly subscription fee?

Stay away from anyone who asks you for an upfront or monthly subscription fee to be able to work with them. All reliable dropship suppliers won’t charge you anything for working with them. If a supplier says you need to pay an upfront fee, that means they’re in financial trouble or they just don’t want to work with first-time dropshippers. So, go and check out other suppliers if you’re asked for this fee.

Question 4: What are your returns policies?

This is an inevitable part of the retail world. You’ll have to deal with returned orders no matter how good a supplier you work with. So, you’d better make this clear right at the beginning so that you can understand how the supplier will handle returns. This will help you maintain your reputation as you can provide your customers with a simple, pain-free refund/return process when they are not happy with the quality.

Question 5: What are your minimum order requirements?

Although you turn to the dropshipping world because you don’t want to deal with inventory, some reliable dropship suppliers will work with you only if you can sell a certain volume of products per quarter or generate a certain level of revenue a year.

If this is a case you stumble on, you need to find out what the MOQ is and if keeping that level of stock is a workable strategy for your business. Those who ask for a MOQ tend to be very established suppliers, so if you don’t want to deal with inventory, you should find smaller suppliers.

Question 6: What type of data feed integration do you provide?

Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than buying a product only to hear from you after the fact that it’s out-of-stock. In order to avoid out-of-stock issues with your listings, you need to clearly understand any potential supplier’s data integration and how frequent and reliable.

Question 7: What is your average processing time?

Your customers will expect their order to arrive as quickly as possible when they place an order on your website. Amazon Prime, same-day delivery and in-store pickup have made consumers much less patient to wait for their orders to come, but if your price is good, they will still have the patience. However, you still need to find out how quickly a supplier can pack and deliver your individual orders to the customer’s door. This information is definitely should be published on your website where your customers can find it the most easily before they place their order.

Question 8: Do you charge drop fees/other fees?

Drop fees are a common thing in the world of dropshipping. It is a fee charged to offset the cost of packaging and delivering single items, it’s usually about $5 or so).

There might be other fees, so find out if there are any kinds of fees related to partnering with the suppliers. You have to understand your pricing strategy really well and take these fees until consideration too, if you don’t want them to wipe out your profit.

Question 9: Whom can I call when I have a question or problem?

Chinese dropship suppliers are notorious for having horrible, 90s-style websites, but regardless of this, reliable suppliers won’t be hard to get in touch with.

Ask about the role of the person you’re talking to in the business, and make it clear about when you have trouble, who you can get in touch with except for them. Do yourself a favor and find a supplier who is active and responsive so that you don’t get desperate when you run into trouble.

These 9 questions should be able to help you examine potential Chinese dropship suppliers. Please put lots of effort into qualifying suppliers upfront because that will save you a lot of headaches later on and allow you to focus on the important aspects of your dropship business (marketing and selling).

Related Post: What is Drop Surfing Ecommerce? Drop Surfing vs. Dropshipping

Learn more about AliDropship

Final words

If you’re planning the dropshipping world, Aliexpress is the way to go. If someone says you can dropship with Alibaba, they really just don’t know what they are talking about. You can find out about that for yourself by asking a few Alibaba suppliers if they support dropshipping. However, you can still use Alibaba to discover the size and the reliability of the suppliers you’re looking to partner with.

I hope this article has given you many valuable insights and helped you to kick off your dropshipping business.

Sam Nguyen is the CEO and founder of Avada Commerce, an e-commerce solution provider headquartered in Singapore. He is an expert on the Shopify e-commerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Sam loves talking about e-commerce and he aims to help over a million online businesses grow and thrive.