Alibaba belongs to the Alibaba Group, one of the largest web-based groups in the world responsible for such web-shopping giants such as Aliexpress and Taobao. Alibaba.com itself is the behemoth Alibaba Group's largest individual company, as well as the largest online business-to-business trading platform in the world.
What this means is that Alibaba.com does not target individual clients but rather small and medium-sized companies with its products. This can be seen in the form of the very common (and often quite high) minimum order quantities set for many of the items on offer at Alibaba. This makes the site less interesting for casual shopper who just want one Chinese-branded Android tablet or only a couple new shirts, but very useful for small businesses that need to order 500 Print T-Shirts or 200 Digital Cameras.
Alibaba.com, it's also worth noting, is more similar to eBay than Amazon in the way the site is set up: the majority of the items for sale are not offered by Alibaba.com itself, but rather by individual vendors. Just like eBay and Aliexpress, Alibaba's business-to-consumer sister site, Alibaba is mainly just a platform for other vendors to sell their goods, in this case to other small vendors.
As Alibaba is the largest site of its kind in the world, reports from happy and not-so-happy Alibaba shoppers alike are everywhere online. Most of our experience on Alibaba has been positive, but it can vary heavily depending on the vendor from whom you purchase. Because Alibaba does have relatively strict rules regulating vendors, so we've found most of their vendors to be very professional and quick to answer questions.
We always recommend that you check out the vendor's profile before you buy. Read their previous customer reviews, pay attention to the customer ratings, and decide if you trust this person. Alibaba itself pays visits to all of its largest vendors and ranks them according to trust, previous customer experiences, and the efficiency of their businesses, so you can also look out for special seals from Alibaba on vendor pages as confirmation of a trustworthy seller.
The shipping times can vary depending on the vendors--some have longer processing times or don't offer express shipping. All of our experience with Alibaba vendors have been fine. We waited 3 weeks for our test order, which was comfortably within the 3-6 weeks estimated by the vendor.
China is famous for being one of the largest suppliers of Knock-Off goods in the world. As Alibaba.com is a Chinese website offering goods from vendors all over Asia, buyers should remain aware and keep on the look out for counterfeit goods. The purchase and ownership of counterfeit goods is not punishable by law but shipping them into your country may be, especially if you order them in large amounts. Buyers based in the EU, the US and Canada should be particularly vigilant, as counterfeiting goods in these countries is a crime and importing knock-offs could result in a heavy fine should your order be stopped at customs.
Due to the legal headaches that they can cause, we recommend avoiding counterfeit goods to the best of your ability. Price is the best gauge of a product's origins. Regardless of how good they may look in the pictures, that $85 Gucci bag being shipped from Guangzhou is probably not a genuine Gucci bag from Italy. Pay attention to customer reviews and ratings of the item and the seller as well; these are a good gauge of how honest a vendor is (or not).
The shopping and ordering process on Alibaba is different from other online shopping sites. Not all items listed on Alibaba include prices, and most that do only show price estimates for bulk orders. When you decide you would like to place an order, you can either contact a particular supplier directly or you can request quotes on specific items from multiple vendors carrying similar items on Alibaba's "Trends" page.
Alibaba's "Trends" site, mentioned above, is the most-used method to place orders on Alibaba by customers. Here, the most popular items on offer at Alibaba are highlighted and organized into easily-browseable categories. When you find the product(s) that you would like to order, you will be able to specify exact specifications for your ideal item and effectively send a quote request to all vendors carrying similar items.
You can specify exactly what you want, in what color and measurements, in what currency you want to be quoted, and to what country you want the product(s) to be shipped. This form of price comparison is most interesting for private vendors and small-business owners, because you can specify exactly how many individual items you need. There's even the option to "Post a Buying Request" option on your Alibaba account, which allows you to describe an exact item you want, and in what quantity you want it, to be sent to specific vendors or posted publicly for any vendor to contact you with a quote.
Most vendors on Alibaba only accept bulk orders, so if you're only ordering for yourself or you want to order less than 5 individual articles you would be better served shopping on Aliexpress, Alibaba's consumer-to-consumer platform.
In order to facilitate millions of payments between thousands of vendors every day, Alibaba has created its own program called TradeManager, which is free to download.
TradeManager is effectively and email-based chat manager similar in interface design to IM applications such as AIM and Microsoft Messenger. TradeManager facilitates all contact between Buyers and Seller and, as a Buyer, you will use it to ask any questions regarding your order, clarifying the payment process, confirming the shipping method, etc.
The payment methods vary from vendor to vendor. Accepted payment methods will always be demarcated on product pages. Common payment methods accepted by Alibaba vendors include Western Union, MoneyGram, T/T (Wire Transfer), Credit Card, and PayPal.
Alibaba offers its own secure payment service in an effort to improve the buying process for both customers and vendors: Alibaba.com Secure Payment. You, as the buyer, pay the price of your order directly to Alipay via any one of the multiple payment options accepted, including Mastercard, Visa, Maestro, Western Union, Bank Transfer, WebMoney, and QiwiWallet. Just as on Aliexpress, Alibaba will hold the payment in its own account until you (the buyer) confirm that you have received your order. Only after receiving the buyer's confirmation will Alibaba transfer the money to the vendor.
The extra protection offered by Alibaba with the Secure Payment system is quite good. In case there's any problem with your order when it arrives, Alibaba will happily refund your money in its entirety (including any shipping costs). The only real downside we've found to the secure payment system is its availability. As of this writing, it is only available when ordering on the Wholesale Platform, which is the platform designed specially for businesses to order products in bulk.
Whenever the secure payment option is available, you will see a green "Buyer Protection" box on the product page.
Shipping and handling, like just about everything else on Alibaba, depends on the individual vendor from whom you are buying. Most offer a few Free or discounted shipping options, along with a few express shipping options via private carriers such as UPS, DHL, and FedEx. A lot of vendors give very long delivery estimates (usually 20-60 business days) to shield themselves from Buyer complaints about slow shipping. In our experience, you will almost never need to wait the entire 60 workdays for your order.
Just as with the items themselves, you should always pay extra attention to the different shipping options offered by each vendor. Some offer Free Shipping, some only offer paid shipping. Some offer very expensive standard shipping, others offer very cheap shipping. It's very common to find vendors offering items for particularly low prices, and offsetting the price savings on expensive shipping.
Your experience here is also heavily dependent upon the vendor: most Vendors that do a lot of business on Alibaba know how to pack and declare packages directly for customs.
Because it's always possible that you are unlucky and, in spite of all your efforts, order from a vendor who does not correctly package or label your shipment for customs. That's why we always recommend being familiar with your country's rules and regulations on international shipping and import fees, so that you know what to expect in case your package makes an unplanned stopover at your local customs office.
For shipments entering the US, extra taxes and fees on your product are possible. Not every item is taxed when entering the country, and the majority are only subject to a nominal processing fee of between $2 and $9 in the case of a random customs stop. The amount to be paid, however, can vary widely depending on the product and how it’s sent. If you are concerned about your item, or are planning to order goods in excess of $500, it is worth it to check with the Customs Office at the port of entry to confirm any extra fees.
Any extra taxes or duties on your shipment will either be paid at your door when the mailman drops it off, or the package may be held at your local post office. In which case, you will need to go pick it up and pay any applicable fees in person.
You should check out the multiple reviews available on each vendors page before ordering from them. Alibaba has an internal department that focuses on inspecting and reviewing Alibaba's largest vendors, it even allows third party companies to review vendors. You should pay attention to these reviews before ordering to make sure that you can trust the vendor.
Alibaba is most appropriate for small and medium-sized businesses that need to buy products in bulk. In this respect, it's hard to beat Alibaba's selection, bulk order discounts, individual attention (when ordering from an attentive vendor), and the peace of mind offered by the Alipay Secure Payment system. Private shoppers that aren't interested in buying in bulk may still look around and may even find some good deals, but such shoppers would be much better served looking on an equivalent consumer-to-consumer platform such as Alibaba's C2C equivalent Aliexpress.
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|huge selection, Alibaba for individuals that don't want to order in bulk. Pay attention to Vendor ratings before you order.|
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|huge selection, be sure to pay attention to vendor ratings|
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|huge selection, most similar to AliExpress, keep an eye on vendor ratings and shipping costs|
Because Alibaba is a platform specifically for companies to offer their wares directly to other companies, there aren't very many coupons available for Alibaba normally. If you find any cool discount offers or coupon codes for Alibaba, be sure to let us know!