This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
Alibaba and AliExpress are online marketplaces. The main difference between Alibaba vs AliExpress is that Alibaba is exclusively intended for B2B transactions, whereas AliExpress is open to consumers. Alibaba helps businesses purchase large quantities of products directly from manufacturers at wholesale prices. AliExpress offers products at competitive retail prices with no minimum order requirements.
When to Use Alibaba
Alibaba is a marketplace best for businesses importing large quantities of wholesale products to resell online, in-store, or other businesses. Alibaba is designed as a B2B platform, so it offers lower per-item rates, opportunities to work directly with suppliers and manufacturers, and more options for creating custom products.
Though Alibaba launched a new dropshipping program in September 2020, its products and capabilities are weaker than AliExpress’s well-established dropshipping program.
When to Use AliExpress
AliExpress is an online retail marketplace where US buyers can make purchases from manufacturers and resellers. AliExpress has no minimum order requirements but slightly higher prices. Many sellers on AliExpress specialize in dropshipping, making AliExpress the better choice for small or startup businesses that want to sell products online without having a warehouse.
Use an Alternative if You Need to Set Up an Online Store
If you are a new or startup ecommerce business, using an all-in-one platform to manage your website, store, inventory, and orders is often the easiest option. Shopify does all of this and has apps to manage dropshipping and order fulfillment with suppliers such as Oberlo (which sources from Alibaba). Visit Shopify for a free trial.
Alibaba vs AliExpress at a Glance
Extremely low and negotiable
(B2B wholesale rates)
Slightly higher and non-negotiable
(low B2C-friendly rates)
Minimum order requirements
Vary based on seller
Vary based on seller
Open to consumers
Private label products
Ease of use
*Technically, consumers can create an Alibaba account; however, not all suppliers on the site cater to consumers—most work with wholesale buyers.
Did you know?
Alibaba and AliExpress are part of the larger Alibaba Group. Alibaba Group has another online marketplace called Alibaba Wholesale, which is a middle ground between Alibaba and AliExpress. Alibaba Wholesale is designed for small to medium-sized businesses and offers wholesale pricing, but with lower minimum order quantities than Alibaba.
Alibaba has the lowest prices per item, with Alibaba Wholesale having slightly higher prices and AliExpress having the highest (though they are still typically lower than any US retail prices). If you are a small business that wants to import products but in lower quantities, Alibaba Wholesale may be a good fit for you.
Alibaba vs AliExpress: Pricing & Features
Alibaba and AliExpress are both online marketplaces (think eBay or Amazon) where you purchase goods from third-party sellers. They both offer products at prices well below what you could find on any US-based retail site, but only Alibaba has true wholesale pricing. With Alibaba, you negotiate quotes directly with manufacturers for large quantities of goods. With AliExpress, you can purchase one-off or small quantities of products or have them dropshipped to your customers.
Alibaba Pricing & Features
Alibaba has no upfront or membership fees to purchase products from manufacturers. You can browse the site, find products or suppliers that you like, and reach out to them via email or chat to get a quote. There is no built-in shopping cart on the site. So, Alibaba is a little different from AliExpress in that you can’t just click a “buy” button. Alibaba offers the lowest per-item pricing, which is ideal for retail businesses. Minimum orders vary but are generally at least a few hundred pieces per item. However, Alibaba offers 60-day interest-free financing, which makes placing bulk wholesale orders more affordable.
Alibaba features include:
- Trustworthy platform with secure payment portal
- Trade Assurance program which ensures timely shipments
- Product inspection services to certify quality
- User-friendly and easy to navigate buying process
- Buyers can choose ready-to-ship products or message sellers directly to negotiate or customize products
- Sizable sellers and product inventory
- Pay later option for buyers to purchase inventory with a financing option
- Global sourcing tools for buyers and sellers, including translations for 18+ languages
Click through the sections below for more details:
Alibaba Product Pricing
Alibaba has a wholesale pricing model that is designed for business customers. Wholesale pricing is the cost of a product before any retail markup. For businesses looking to resell products, buying directly from manufacturers typically offers the lowest pricing, which means businesses can make a high profit margin on sales. Alibaba connects buyers directly with manufacturers. AliExpress has some of the same products as Alibaba, but at higher prices.
Alibaba Minimum Order Requirements
Minimum order requirements are the smallest amount of product you can purchase. Sometimes this is a dollar amount, but with Alibaba it is usually a specific number of products. Alibaba and AliExpress are made up of independent sellers, like on eBay and Amazon, so the exact requirements vary.
Alibaba sellers typically have minimum order requirements that range from 50 to 1,000 pieces because the products are being sold at a much lower price. Although, recently, many suppliers have lowered their minimum order quantities to 10 or fewer.
With AliExpress, however, you can purchase single quantities of every item.
Alibaba now offers dropshipping to trade directly with factories, manufacturers, and international wholesalers. Dropshipping through Alibaba provides you a free marketplace to find suppliers to source products without minimum order quantity. This is exceptionally beneficial to test out product ideas before committing to significant inventory investment. All sellers on the Alibaba dropshipping centers are top-rated or verified suppliers, and many support Alibaba.com’s Trade Assurance protection policy.
As this is a relatively new service, Alibaba is very upfront about its current limitations. It acknowledges that search filters are lacking compared to the Alibaba.com marketplace. It also only connects to Shopify and WooCommerce platforms. Additionally, AliExpress’s market analysis tools provide a more in-depth view of trends and sales volume. Anyone who uses Alibaba Dropshipping must either analyze the data themselves or use a partner service provider, including Modalyst, Syncee, Dropified, Sesam, and Sprocket.
So, although it is possible to dropship through Alibaba, we still recommend AliExpress as the better dropshipping solution.
Alibaba Custom Products and Private Label
Alibaba is the better choice for purchasing custom and private label products because the items come directly from the manufacturer. With Alibaba, you can easily get products with your logo, store name, or custom sayings for a very low price because they are added during the manufacturing process instead of afterward by a third party.
Many suppliers on Alibaba will manufacture products according to your design, so you are getting a truly unique product. With AliExpress, the products are typically pre-made, so there are limited customization options and they are usually more expensive.
Alibaba Lead Time
The specific lead time for your order can vary a lot depending on the supplier, the product you are purchasing, how big your order is, and if anything is being customized. Thirty days for product production from the time of payment is a safe bet.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it can take you a while to find the right supplier, negotiate a quote, receive samples, and finalize your order. Plus, if the product is being shipped from overseas, that can take a few weeks to a few months. So in total, expect the process to take a few months.
Alibaba has freight procurement integrated into the platform. Powered by Freightos, Alibaba Freight is a new marketplace that allows US retailers and businesses to compare pricing, book, manage, and track ocean and air shipping for their wholesale orders. Before Alibaba Freight, available shipping costs, methods, and time would vary depending on the supplier you were ordering from and was a fairly opaque process.
Some Alibaba suppliers have warehouses in the US. So, if you are purchasing pre-made products from one of those suppliers, they can send you products directly from their US warehouse, which will be faster and much less expensive. With AliExpress, your products will generally ship via air since they are small quantities.
AliExpress Pricing & Features
AliExpress offers very competitive retail pricing, dropshipping, and has a built-in shopping cart that lets buyers purchase individual items. AliExpress product prices are higher than Alibaba’s, but lower than most US-based retailers.
AliExpress features include:
- Products are available to individual consumers
- No minimum order quantity
- Independent sellers can sell products directly to buyers worldwide
- Automatic translation to 18 languages
- Currency conversions from 51 countries
- Secure payment and transactions with 38 local payment channels
- Buyer protection
- AliExpress University learning resources for new sellers
- Express shipping from one week to two months
Click through the sections below for more details:
AliExpress Product Pricing
AliExpress offers products from third-party sellers in a variety of categories, similar to Alibaba. The main differences with AliExpress are slightly higher pricing and anyone can place an order directly through the website—you do not need to contact suppliers directly and negotiate a quote. Although the per-item costs on AliExpress are higher, buyers can place much smaller orders and often receive free shipping.
Although many businesses use AliExpress to source products, the website functions more as a retail site in the sense that there are no minimum order requirements and anyone can make a purchase. Alibaba sellers typically have higher minimum order requirements, and while anyone can contact a seller for a quote, the sellers typically only work with businesses.
AliExpress is the best choice for dropshipping because you can order one-off products instead of massive shipments. Dropshipping is a feature many AliExpress sellers offer. You can also find AliDropship apps on many third-party solutions, such as Shopify, to sell dropship AliExpress products. Additionally, AliDropship offers plugins for WordPress and WooCommerce to sell dropship products from AliExpress.
AliExpress Custom Products and Private Label
Alibaba is the better choice for sourcing custom and private label products because you are purchasing directly from a manufacturer that can create products according to your specifications. With AliExpress, you purchase pre-made products that typically cannot be customized.
AliExpress Lead Time
Since the products bought through AliExpress are already manufactured, the lead time is much shorter for AliExpress orders than Alibaba orders. AliExpress orders are generally shipped right away, though they are usually shipped from overseas. So you would typically receive orders within 30 days of purchasing with free shipping.
AliExpress Shipping Costs and Time
AliExpress offers a one-stop shipping service through AliExpress and the Cainiao Network. This method provides:
- First-mile pickup service
- Consolidation service
- International line-haul service
- Customs clearance service
- Last-mile delivery service
After placing orders on AliExpress, the seller will send the package to the AliExpress shipping center. From there, you will get tracking information to follow your package.
The arrival time for AliExpress Shipping depends on the shipping option you choose. It offers AliExpress Standard Shipping, which usually takes 15-45 business days, or AliExpress Premium Shipping, which estimates delivery time from seven to 15 business days. Costs depend on your location and the shipping service you select. However, most products will offer free shipping.
Since AliExpress purchases are much smaller than Alibaba wholesale orders, the shipping logistics are easier and less expensive, though it still takes time.
Alibaba vs AliExpress: Ease of Use
Alibaba and AliExpress have similar websites that are both intuitive to navigate and pretty easy to use. However, AliExpress is slightly more user-friendly, especially if you are not experienced with placing wholesale orders. On Alibaba, you need to reach out to suppliers directly and negotiate quotes.
Alibaba Ease of Use
Alibaba can be very easy to use if you’re an experienced wholesale buyer. However, if you’ve never placed a wholesale order before, it may be a tough place to start. Suppliers have no obligation to respond to your quote requests, so the process can be frustrating if you’re not sure what information they’re looking for or what questions to ask. Likewise, navigating the shipping, importing, and payment processes can be confusing.
AliExpress Ease of Use
AliExpress functions similarly to any retail store and has a built-in shopping cart, so no direct communication with suppliers is required. The ordering process is much more straightforward and much faster than with Alibaba.
Alibaba vs AliExpress: Customer Service
Alibaba and AliExpress are both online marketplaces based in China that consist of third-party sellers, so the experience you have purchasing through these marketplaces can vary greatly depending on the individual seller. However, both marketplace platforms have rules and complaint procedures in place to try to ensure a good buying experience.
Alibaba Customer Service
When purchasing from Alibaba, businesses are dealing directly with suppliers, not Alibaba itself. However, Alibaba does have help centers, community forums, and areas to enter formal complaints and disputes. Buyers can also contact Alibaba support via live chat. There is no phone support through Alibaba; however, you will be in direct contact with your suppliers via email.
AliExpress Customer Service
Similar to Alibaba, AliExpress has a help center and live chat option on the website, but doesn’t have phone support. AliExpress also has dispute management services on the website for reporting suppliers or requesting refunds.
Alibaba vs AliExpress: Customer Reviews
Reviews for both Alibaba and AliExpress are mixed. The experience you have buying from these marketplaces can vary a lot depending on the supplier you purchase from. They all have varying policies and standards of quality that may or may not be what you are expecting.
Alibaba Customer Reviews
Though there have been many reports of scam businesses on Alibaba, there are also many fantastic reputable manufacturers on the site. Alibaba has taken many steps in recent years to crack down on issues like product quality and counterfeit goods. Many experienced wholesale buyers have a positive experience with Alibaba because you can purchase custom products for low prices.
AliExpress Customer Reviews
Reviews for AliExpress are very mixed. Some businesses use AliExpress to dropship products without any issues. However, many retail shoppers who buy from AliExpress complain of orders not arriving, incorrect product shipments, and issues settling disputes or getting refunds.
How to Get a Quote From Alibaba Suppliers
|Use Alibaba Trade Assurance||Buy branded products|
|Choose Verified Suppliers||Buy in bulk before testing the product or ordering samples|
|Pay through Alibaba’s secure ordering system|
If you are interested in purchasing wholesale products from Alibaba, you will need to find a supplier with the products you want, and reach out to get a quote. This process is called “Request for Quotation.” If you are new to wholesale buying, the process can be confusing.
Here’s how to get a quote on Alibaba:
1. Determine the Products You Need
There are over 150,000 suppliers on Alibaba, so you want to be specific when searching for a product. For example, instead of “women’s sneakers,” search “women’s lightweight running shoes.”
To avoid any counterfeit or trademark issues, do not purchase brand name goods from Alibaba. If you are interested in selling name brand goods, source directly from the brand itself to ensure you purchase authentic products and avoid any potential legal issues.
Trademark owners can report and remove unlicensed or counterfeit listings from Alibaba. But, there are thousands of suppliers on the site, and not all counterfeit listings are caught, and not all brands monitor and report counterfeit goods on Alibaba.
2. Find Multiple Suppliers to Contact
When finding suppliers from which to purchase products, price is probably the first thing you will consider. However, there are a number of other things to look for, including:
- Trade Assurance: Some suppliers support this feature, which allows you to submit a claim to Alibaba if you are not satisfied with your shipment. Alibaba reviews the claim and may offer a refund. Look for suppliers that offer this as they are more likely to be reputable.
- Gold Suppliers: Suppliers can pay Alibaba to be listed as Gold Suppliers. If a supplier is not Gold, that doesn’t mean they aren’t reputable. However, it is a safer bet to choose suppliers that are investing in their Alibaba listings.
- Verified (Assessed) Suppliers: Verified suppliers have had their factories inspected by Alibaba’s third-party service, which has deemed the suppliers reputable. Always look for Verified Suppliers.
When searching supplier listings, you can check off boxes to only show suppliers that have Trade Assurance and Verified Suppliers. It’s a good idea to use this feature, especially if you are new to purchasing wholesale products. The individual listings will show if they are a Gold Supplier or not.
3. Submit Inquiries
When it is time to submit an inquiry or request for quotes, there are a few ways you can do this. First, you can contact individual suppliers directly. In this initial contact, just introduce yourself, say what products you are interested in, and inquire about samples. Keep it short, simple, and professional.
Alternatively, you can use Alibaba’s Request for Quotation (RFQ) service to request quotes from many suppliers at once. This form requires a little more information, but you will end up with a list of quotes to compare, which can be faster than selecting and reaching out to suppliers individually. This service is free, but you can pay for faster results or more quotes. Keep in mind that there is no option to only select Assessed or Trade Assurance suppliers when submitting this form, so you will have to check for that after receiving your results.
4. Get Samples
Request samples from the suppliers in which you are interested. With samples, you will typically have to pay for your samples and shipping. You can negotiate the cost to be absorbed into the price of a larger order if you decide to continue. However, if a supplier does not offer samples, consider that a red flag and choose a different company. Samples allow you to assess and compare product quality before placing large wholesale orders.
AliExpress vs Alibaba Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Alibaba and AliExpress are similar in many ways, yet serve very different purposes for retail business owners.
What is an RFQ?
RFQ stands for Request for Quotation, which is a tool buyers can use on Alibaba to collect quotes for a specific product from many suppliers at once. Filling out an RFQ form can be a lot faster than finding and contacting suppliers individually, though you will have less control over the results you receive.
What is Alibaba Wholesale?
Alibaba Wholesale is a separate online marketplace that Alibaba Group also owns. Alibaba Wholesale is like a midway point between Alibaba and AliExpress because it offers bulk wholesale products like Alibaba, but with lower minimum order requirements. The price per product on Alibaba Wholesale is higher than Alibaba, but lower than AliExpress.
Is it safe to buy from Alibaba?
Generally, yes, it is safe to buy from Alibaba. Like on eBay or Amazon Marketplace, there will always be sellers who aren’t offering what they claim, but you can take precautions to help ensure you are purchasing from a reputable supplier.
What’s the difference between AliExpress & Amazon?
Amazon is strictly for consumers. AliExpress sells to consumers, but also has dropshipping tools for businesses. Some businesses source products from AliExpress to sell on Amazon. From a consumer’s perspective, the biggest difference is in shipping time. On Amazon, most products are available with free two-day shipping. On AliExpress, most products are coming from China, or somewhere overseas, and will take 12 to 25 days to arrive.
Can I dropship using Alibaba?
Yes, you can dropship directly from Alibaba. However, the new service is still growing in its capabilities. Additionally, not all suppliers offer dropship services because they prefer to sell in bulk. If you want to offer dropshipping, source from AliExpress. The prices are higher, but you can purchase individual items and most suppliers offer dropshipping.
How do I place an order on Alibaba?
There is no shopping cart on Alibaba’s website. You need to contact suppliers directly through an inquiry form, email, or chat to place an order. You can also submit a Request for Quotation (RFQ) form to receive information from many suppliers. You will need to negotiate price and payments directly with each supplier, and then navigate the Alibaba Freight marketplace for shipping, so the ordering process is longer and more complicated than with a retail site.
What is Alibaba Trade Assurance?
Alibaba Trade Assurance is a buyer protection program that suppliers can elect to offer. It is free for buyers to use, and is designed to help build trust between buyers and suppliers. Trade Assurance can help buyers get a refund if their orders ship significantly later than promised or if the products do not match the specifications outlined in the order agreement.
Sourcing products is a vital part of any retail or ecommerce business. AliExpress and Alibaba both offer businesses opportunities to buy products from millions of sources at low prices. AliExpress is the best option for dropshipping, as it allows businesses to purchase single items, and has plugins to integrate dropshipping right on your website. AliExpress is also the best option for startup businesses new to placing wholesale orders and importing products.
Alibaba offers established retail and ecommerce businesses unbeatable prices on wholesale products, including custom-made and custom-designed goods directly from manufacturers. Alibaba is free to use and protects buyers with Trade Assurance and Verified Suppliers. Visit Alibaba to create a free account.