Alibaba and AliExpress are online marketplaces. The main difference between Alibaba vs AliExpress is: 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 best for businesses that want to import large quantities of wholesale products to resell online or in-store. Alibaba does not offer dropshipping, and is best for established or growing businesses that have facilities to receive and store hundreds or thousands of wholesale items at a time. Visit Alibaba to create a free account.
When to Use AliExpress
AliExpress is an online marketplace where U.S. buyers can make purchases from manufacturers and resellers. AliExpress has no minimum order requirements but slightly higher prices. Many sellers on AliExpress offer dropshipping, making AliExpress the better choice for small or startup businesses that want to sell products online without having a warehouse. Visit AliExpress to create a free account.
When to Use an Alternative
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 you can use to manage dropshipping and order fulfillment with suppliers such as Oberlo. Visit Shopify for a free trial.
Alibaba vs AliExpress at a Glance
|Minimum order requirements|
|Open to consumers|
|Private label products|
|Ease of use|
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.
In terms of price per item, Alibaba has the lowest prices, Alibaba Wholesale has slightly higher prices, and AliExpress has the highest prices (though they are still typically lower than any U.S. retail prices). If you are a small business that wants to import products, but at lower quantities, Alibaba Wholesale may be a good fit for you.
How We Evaluated Alibaba vs AliExpress
To evaluate Alibaba versus AliExpress, we looked at importing and dropshipping features, ease of use, and what kind of business each marketplace is best suited for. We also considered shipping costs and logistics, price, and the ability to customize products.
We compared Alibaba versus AliExpress based on:
- Price: We looked at whether each solution offers wholesale or retail pricing and the general cost of goods.
- Ease of use: We examined how easy each site is to use to place orders, track shipping, and find products.
- Dropshipping features: We considered whether or not the marketplace offers dropshipping and how businesses can place dropship orders.
- Ability to customize products: We looked at whether or not the suppliers on the marketplace allow buyers to purchase custom, white label, or private label products.
- Shipping costs and time: Both marketplaces and their suppliers are based in China, so we examined average shipping times, methods, and costs.
- Product production time: Some products are made to order, so we looked at the average time between when an order is placed and when products arrive.
- Buyer protection: We considered what protections or money-back guarantees Alibaba and AliExpress offer buyers.
Comparing Alibaba and AliExpress is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, as they do not offer quite the same thing. However, Alibaba tops our list because it is designed specifically for businesses. Alibaba offers very low wholesale prices and options to customize products or create private label brands, which AliExpress does not.
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 U.S.-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.
Alibaba features include:
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. With AliExpress, you can purchase single items.
Most suppliers on Alibaba do not offer dropshipping since they only sell in bulk. However, with careful searching through supplier pages, you may be able to find a few that do. You could also find a workaround by using a fulfillment company to pack and ship your orders with products that you purchase from Alibaba, though you would still be purchasing the products in bulk. In comparison, most suppliers on AliExpress offer dropshipping.
Alibaba Custom Products & Private Label
Alibaba is the better choice for purchasing custom and private label products because you are purchasing the items 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 afterwards by a third party.
There are also many suppliers on Alibaba that will manufacture products according to your design, so you are getting a truly unique product. With AliExpress, the products are typically already premade, 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 anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. So in total, expect the process to take a few months.
Alibaba Shipping Costs & Time
Alibaba shipping costs and time will also vary depending on your supplier, what you are ordering, and how big your order is. Your products will likely be shipped via boat from the overseas manufacturer. This will take longer and have to clear through customs, but is more affordable than air shipping.
Some Alibaba suppliers have warehouses in the U.S. So, if you are purchasing premade products from one of those suppliers, they can send you products directly from their U.S. 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 is a giant online marketplace owned by Alibaba Group, and is open to retail and business buyers in the United States. 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, but lower than most U.S.-based retailers.
AliExpress features include:
AliExpress Product Pricing
AliExpress offers products from third-party sellers in a variety of categories, similar to Alibaba. The main differences are AliExpress has slightly higher pricing, and on AliExpress, anyone can place an order directly through the website—you do not need to contact suppliers directly and negotiate a quote. The per-item costs on AliExpress are higher than on Alibaba. However, buyers can place much smaller orders and often receive free shipping
AliExpress Minimum Order Requirements
Although AliExpress is used by many businesses 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. There is also a WordPress plugin feature called AliDropship that you can add to any WordPress site to sell dropship products from AliExpress. There are also many third-party solutions to sell dropship AliExpress products, such as Shopify’s Oberlo app.
AliExpress Custom Products & Private Label
Alibaba is the better choice for sourcing custom and private label products because you are purchasing directly from a manufacturer who can create products according to your specifications. With AliExpress, you are purchasing premade products that typically cannot be customized.
AliExpress Lead Time
Since the products that are bought through AliExpress are already manufactured, the lead time is much shorter for AliExpress orders than Alibaba orders. AliExpress orders are typically 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 & Time
AliExpress offers free shipping to U.S. customers through a service called ePacket. This free shipping is available for retail customers and for businesses using AliExpress to dropship to customers. Typically products purchased on AliExpress will be coming from overseas, and take 12 to 25 days to be delivered. ePacket offers package tracking, so you and your customers can see where your orders are. 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-looking websites that are both intuitive to navigate and pretty easy to use. However, AliExpress is a little easier, 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 are an experienced wholesale buyer. However, if you have never placed a wholesale order before, Alibaba 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 are not sure what information they are 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 live chat option on the website, but does not offer 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, receiving the wrong product, and issues settling disputes or getting refunds.
How to Get a Quote From Alibaba Suppliers
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 is how to get a quote on Alibaba:
1. Determine the Products You Need
There are over 8.5 million 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.”
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: Assessed suppliers have had their factories inspected by Alibaba’s third-party service, which has deemed the suppliers as reputable. Always look for Assessed Suppliers.
When searching supplier listings, you can check off boxes to only show suppliers that have Trade Assurance and Assessed 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 comes 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, ask about shipping, 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 a faster process 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 shipping. For more expensive products, you may also be asked to pay a fee for the sample, all of which is normal. 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.
Tips for Buying From Alibaba
Alibaba is a marketplace site that is filled with manufacturers and suppliers that have different prices, product quality, and policies. There are always risks involved when it comes to importing products. However, there are some steps you can take to help ensure you are choosing quality suppliers and products, while also protecting your investments. Follow these tips to help ensure a smooth buying process.
Don’t Buy Branded Products
Trademark owners can report and remove unlicensed or counterfeit listings from Alibaba. 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.
To avoid any counterfeit or trademark issues, do not purchase brand name goods from Alibaba. You may see listings for electronics or handbags at prices that seem too good to be true, and that’s because they are. If you are interested in selling name brand goods, source directly from the brand itself to ensure you are purchasing authentic product and to avoid any potential legal issues.
Do Use Alibaba Trade Assurance
Alibaba Trade Assurance is a free order protection service that is designed to help build trust between buyers and suppliers. Trade Assurance can help buyers get a refund if their orders are significantly delayed or if the products do not match the specifications outlined in the order agreement. Trade Assurance is not a guarantee, but suppliers need to sign up to offer Trade Assurance and agree to abide by Trade Assurance rules, so generally suppliers that offer this feature will be more reputable.
Do Choose Assessed Suppliers
Alibaba has a service that Gold Suppliers can elect called Assessed Suppliers. These suppliers have had their premises inspected by a third-party inspection company. Inspections include videos of the factory, basic product quality checks, and assessment reports.
Do Use a Secure Payment Method
Always pay through Alibaba’s secure ordering system (which is required for Trade Assurance) or with a tool like PayPal. Never pay for an order using Western Credit Union or by sending money directly to a personal bank account. Sometimes even genuine suppliers will ask you to send money to a personal account in order to avoid taxes; this is a red flag and at worst could indicate a scam.
Do Test Products Before Buying in Bulk
Of course, you will want samples of each product before making a large wholesale purchase. However, equally as important, is to test each kind of product in your store before committing to a large order. For example, if you are interested in selling printed leggings online, but have not sold them before, test the market by offering dropship sales to ensure there is demand for those products before importing 1,000 printed leggings.
AliExpress vs Alibaba Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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 is also owned by Alibaba Group. 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. Just like on eBay or Amazon Marketplace, there will always be sellers who aren’t offering what they claim, but there are precautions you can take 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?
No, you can’t dropship directly from Alibaba because you are purchasing from manufacturers who 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. To place an order, you need to contact suppliers directly through an inquiry form, email, or chat. You can also submit a Request for Quotation (RFQ) form to receive information from many suppliers. You will need to negotiate price, shipping, and payments directly with each supplier, 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 that are new to placing wholesale orders and importing products.
If you are an established retail or ecommerce business, Alibaba is the best choice because you can get unbeatable prices on wholesale products, including custom-made and custom-designed goods directly from manufacturers. Alibaba is completely free to use, and offers protection for buyers with Trade Assurance and Assessed Suppliers. Visit Alibaba to create a free account.