Alibaba vs AliExpress: Which Is Right For Your Dropshipping Needs?

For dropshippers, it can be confusing to decide which works best for them: Alibaba vs AliExpress. While the two companies serve similar markets and are both owned by the Alibaba Group, there are some key differences.

To help you figure out which is right for your dropshipping needs, we’ll thoroughly examine both platforms and consider the pros and cons.

What Is Alibaba?

Screenshot of the Alibaba homepage.

Alibaba is one of the largest wholesale and B2B eCommerce platforms in the world.

The company was founded in 1999 with the goal of helping Chinese manufacturers easily export their products on the global market. 

Over the past few decades, the company has grown to be one of the largest online B2B marketplaces. The website offers products in over 5,000 categories and has built many tools to help streamline B2B operations.

Sellers on Alibaba are focused on wholesaling or selling large industrial products, such as food trucks and industrial machinery. They will often have larger minimum orders and ship through freight shipping worldwide.

What Is AliExpress?

Screenshot of the AliExpress homepage.

AliExpress, formed in 2010, is the retail arm of the Alibaba Group, focused on selling to consumers rather than B2B like the Alibaba platform.

In this way, AliExpress is more similar to sites like Amazon or eBay.

Sellers on AliExpress are typically wholesalers. The platform offers over 100 million products spread throughout thousands of categories.

Unlike Alibaba, there are no minimum orders for products on AliExpress. Orders typically ship through AliExpress standard shipping. Many dropshippers use the AliExpress platform, which has led the company to offer various tools and guides for better utilizing the platform.

Alibaba vs AliExpress: Which Is Better For Dropshipping

The clear winner between Alibaba vs AliExpress in terms of dropshipping is AliExpress. This is mainly because Alibaba is focused on wholesaling to businesses, meaning dropshippers will be unable to utilize the platform.

AliExpress instead allows dropshippers to place individual orders and then have each order mailed to different customers.

Many of the sellers on AliExpress are also geared towards dropshippers, offering things like blank packages and private labeling of products.

Another benefit to using AliExpress for dropshippers is the various tools and guides developed by the company to make managing your business easier. The main downside to AliExpress is the potentially longer shipping times.

When Should You Use Alibaba?

Alibaba will be of primary benefit to eCommerce stores that operate using the traditional sales model. This means you will be carrying inventory or utilizing services such as Amazon FBA

It can be a good idea for you, as a dropshipper, to move towards this model as your website grows. Once you begin selling large quantities of specific products, having stock on hand of those items can reduce shipping times for your customers. 

Alibaba Pricing

Pricing on Alibaba is based on wholesale ordering. The exception to this is for large industrial items, such as machinery or other large and expensive products, such as food trucks. 

Because of this wholesale pricing model, total order prices will be much more expensive, with individual product prices much less.

Prices for each item will be cheaper on Alibaba than through AliExpress.

If you decide on this option, begin to order items wholesale that you sell a high amount of on your dropshipping site.

Many larger retailers utilize this model to maximize profit. Retailers such as Walmart will have their highest-ordered products on hand and fill in the gaps with dropshipped products on their eCommerce platform. 

Alibaba Minimum Order Requirement

Minimum order requirements refer to the lower limit set by sellers on the Alibaba platform before shipping an order. Because Alibaba is a wholesale B2B platform, sellers will often, but not always, place minimum orders for their products.

Screenshot of Alibaba product with minimum order quanitity outlined.

Typically, the minimum order requirements will be higher for lower-cost items, such as cheap kids’ toys or clothes. For bulky and expensive products, such as industrial machinery or food trucks, minimum order requirements will usually be only one.

Sellers on the platform will typically offer discounts for ordering more products. This will be reflective of the cost of producing each product

Dropshipping Using Alibaba

Even though Alibaba isn’t as good for dropshipping, there are still opportunities. Some manufacturers allow you to order smaller quantities to tap into the dropshipping market. There is even a dropshipping section to make it easier to find these suppliers.

Screenshot of the Alibaba dropshipping section.

Prices will reflect this minimum order quantity, meaning you won’t be receiving the best possible margins. To find potential dropshipping suppliers on Alibaba, you can type “dropshipping” into the search bar.

Quite a few suppliers are willing to dropship and sell private label on Alibaba. However, you will find a much more robust selection on AliExpress.

Custom Products and Private Labeling

Private labeling, sometimes called white-label, refers to selling customized products made by another manufacturer, but using your labels and branding. This is extremely common in many niches such as the supplement market and clothing.

Alibaba has a better range of private label suppliers since you usually deal with the manufacturer directly. If you are trying to create your own branded products, which you should be, this can be an excellent place to look for suppliers.

A good way to figure out which ones will cater to dropshippers is by looking at the minimum order quantities. Some suppliers will also put “dropship” and “private label” in product descriptions, making it easier to find them.

Alibaba Shipping Times and Shipping Costs

Each Alibaba seller will offer different shipping options. Typically, wholesale suppliers will deal with sea freight shipping for larger wholesale orders. For smaller products, even those ordered wholesale, air shipping options are usually available.

Screenshot of the product on Alibaba and the different shipping options.

Suppliers that offer smaller minimum order quantities geared towards dropshippers will usually have DHL, FedEx and UPS options. These will be more expensive for shipping, but are typically more reliable than options like the China Post.

AliExpress, in this regard, is better for dropshippers as they offer AliExpress Standard shipping. This will usually mean orders get there faster and cheaper.

When Should You Use AliExpress?

AliExpress is a better option for most dropshippers.

The platform is more focused on selling business to consumer, as opposed to business to business, meaning there will be more suppliers willing to offer dropshipping.

As with Alibaba, numerous suppliers are on here willing to offer private labeling. Shipping will also usually cost less using AliExpress.

AliExpress Pricing

Pricing on AliExpress will be a bit higher per item due to the markup for lower-order quantities. There may also be a small markup if you are ordering from a wholesaler on the website instead of a manufacturer selling smaller amounts. 

Screenshot of an AliExpress product page.

You will notice on AliExpress that there are many sellers with the same products. This is reflective of the fact that many are wholesalers instead of the original manufacturer.

One upside with AliExpress is they regularly offer discounts or specials, allowing you to buy items at wholesale price, but with no bulk order requirements. This is usually true when you first sign up and during specific holiday periods.

AliExpress Minimum Order Requirement

AliExpress does not have any minimum quantity requirements. The platform is geared towards individual consumers buying products rather than businesses. 

This is what makes the platform ideal for dropshippers. The minimum quantity order requirement many sellers on Alibaba have make it prohibitive to order products. One downside to this, as noted above, is the pricing for items on AliExpress will generally be higher for individual products. 

Dropshipping Using AliExpress

AliExpress is one of the best platforms for sourcing dropshipping suppliers. The company has even set up the AliExpress Dropshipping Center to make it easier for dropshippers to get started.

Screenshot of the AliExpress Dropshipping Center.

The reason dropshippers tend to flock to AliExpress is that many of the suppliers using the platform are set up for dropshipping. They mail items in discreet packages and avoid adding inserts, sampling or review requests. This makes getting started with them more manageable. 

Another thing that makes AliExpress a good platform for dropshipping is their better shipping times. The company has put a lot of effort into improving shipping items, including working with suppliers to utilize warehouses better worldwide.

AliExpress Shipping Times and Shipping Costs

As noted above, shipping times on AliExpress are typically much faster, and the costs are significantly less than Alibaba. There are a few reasons for this, but the primary one is how items are shipped.

AliExpress offers a standard shipping service. This is a logistics company owned by the Alibaba Group geared towards decreasing shipping times worldwide. The average shipping time to the United States using this service is between 15 and 25 days, sometimes less.

While this may not seem like a shorter shipping time, consider that China Post shipping, which used to be the primary option, could take as much as 40 days or more. 

Alibaba vs AliExpress: Ease Of Use

Both platforms have their upside and downside when it comes to ease of use. It’s important to note that both platforms are Chinese companies, and concepts and trends in user experience may be different for this reason.

Alibaba Ease of Use

Alibaba is slightly harder to use than AliExpress. The primary reason for this is it’s not set up to handle individual orders. Instead, you have to contact the manufacturer to arrange orders and shipping.

Pros:

  • Easy to search products
  • Intuitive layout and design
  • Easy to sign up for an account

Cons:

  • Need to communicate with suppliers

AliExpress Ease of Use

For dropshippers, AliExpress is much easier to use. The platform is set up for handling individual orders, so payment and everything else is made directly through the platform. It’s also easier to search for dropshipping suppliers utilizing the AliExpress Dropshipping Center.

Pros:

  • AliExpress Dropshipping Center
  • Easier to order products
  • Easy to set up an account

Cons:

  • Slightly less intuitive layout

Alibaba vs Ali Express: Customer Service

While the Alibaba Group has made upgrades over the years to improve customer service across its platforms, some areas still need improvement.

Alibaba

Alibaba arguably has a better use-friendly customer service section. It’s pretty easy to find the different service options, and using their self-help section is more intuitive.

Screenshot of AliExpress customer service page.

One other upside is that it was much easier to speak with a real person using their live chat feature. I tried a few different times talking to various representatives, and both times, they answered promptly. Their English was better with some representatives than others.

Screenshot of Alibaba live chat.

AliExpress

The help page on AliExpress was less intuitively laid out. While this isn’t a huge issue, it leaves room for improvement.

Screenshot of the Aliexpress customer service page.

Like Alibaba, there is a live chat feature on AliExpress. However, I could not connect with a live customer service representative on AliExpress and instead had to work with the chatbot, which wasn’t always effective.

Screenshot of the AliExpress live chat.

Alibaba vs AliExpress: Buyer Protection And Manufacturer Vetting

Both Alibaba and AliExpress offer buyer protection. Each company has also come a long way in vetting the manufacturers and suppliers they allow on the platform.

While it is still possible to get scammed, the instances of this happening have dropped significantly. If issues do arise, both platforms have a way to report abuse on the platform and dispute orders.

For Alibaba, buyer protection consists of a 30 day refund period. You will have to work with the dropshipping supplier directly. However, in the rare case that an issue cannot be resolved, Alibaba may refund you.

Screenshot of Alibaba buyer protection page.

AliExpress also provides buyer protection, though, like their customer support, it is not as clear as Alibaba. Buyers can receive refunds if orders are not fulfilled during the stated time and if items are different than what they were advertised as.

Screenshot of AliExpress buyer protection page.

Alibaba vs AliExpress Integrations

Both platforms integrate with various eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon, eBay, Wix, Squarespace and BigCommerce.

While AliExpress and Alibaba both have APIs, for non-developers, the easiest way to manage integrations will be through online applications. These online applications make importing products, managing inventory and handling orders more straightforward.

Some of the most popular apps for managing AliExpress and Alibaba include:

  • Oberlo (Shopify)
  • Spocket (Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, WooCommerce, and more)
  • AliDropship Plugin (WordPress)
  • Modalyst (Shopify, Wix, BigCommerce)

Things To Consider Before Dropshipping With Alibaba or AliExpress

Hopefully you’ve decided which platform is better for you to source dropshipping products with. Whichever you choose, the following tips will help when sourcing products on either platform.

Fakes and Copyrighted Goods

You must avoid dropshipping fake or counterfeit products or items that have any copyright or trademarked content on them. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, counterfeit designer clothing and bags, toys with trademarked print on them, and knockoff jewelry, such as watches.

Screenshot of trademarked product on AliExpress.

Selling counterfeit or copyrighted goods can land you in legal trouble if you’re caught by the customs or post office inspector. Fines for these violations can be steep, and you will likely have your store shut down. So, if you have any doubts, just avoid selling the product.

Screenshot of fake product on Alibaba.

Potentially Long Shipping Times

Shipping products from mainland China or Hong Kong can take a long time regardless of whether you order from AliExpress or Alibaba. It’s essential to speak with each supplier beforehand to ask about expected shipping times.

If possible, you should try and order a sample from each supplier before doing business with them. Not only will this give you a reasonable estimate for expected shipping times, but it also lets you inspect the merchandise and ensure ease of communication.

Difficulty Handling Returns

Regardless of which platform you order from, handling returns will be a bit of a hassle. You will need to process the return with the customer before communicating with the supplier.

After you’ve processed the return, you will need to work with the supplier to send the product back and receive a refund. You will also usually be responsible for return shipping costs.

One option you have that may be better than returns is to keep any returned products in new condition. This way, when another customer orders the same product, you can mail it directly, reducing shipping items.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alibaba vs AliExpress

To help you even further when looking at Alibaba vs AliExpress, here are answers to some of the most common questions on the topic.

Is It Safe To Order From Alibaba?

It is safe to order from Alibaba. The company encrypts all information transmitted, including your personal details. Suppliers on the platform also must meet minimum standards and reporting abuse is a simple process. You can also look at a supplier’s satisfaction rate and read reviews.

What’s The Difference Between AliExpress and Amazon?

AliExpress is a Chinese company created in 2010 by the Alibaba Group. Amazon, on the other hand, is an American company. Both platforms operate using a business-to-consumer model. However, AliExpres typically works with suppliers in China and ships to other parts of the world, whereas Amazon has a mix of suppliers from around the world.

Can I Dropship Using Alibaba?

You can dropship using Alibaba. Many dropshipping business providers are using the platform. However, the primary purpose of Alibaba is B2B wholesale purchases. For this reason, AliExpress is usually a better platform for dropshippers to source products from. AliExpress focuses on B2C orders and has millions of products available.

What Is Alibaba Trade Assurance?

Alibaba Trade Assurance is a built-in protection program covering all online orders made through the Alibaba website. The program keeps buyers safe from fraudulent orders and assures that orders are delivered within the agreed-upon timeline. 

How do you determine if an Alibaba or Aliexpress supplier is legitimate?

The best way to determine if an Alibaba or AliExpress supplier is legitimate is to look at their satisfaction score and reviews. A good rule is that a supplier should have a rating above 90%. When looking at reviews, note repeat mentions of long shipping or fulfillment times or poor product quality.

Which site is cheaper, Alibaba or AliExpress?

Alibaba is often cheaper than AliExpress per item due to selling through a wholesale model. However, this often makes dropshipping through Alibaba prohibitive for many suppliers. AliExpress allows you to order any quantity of an item which makes the per-item price more but is better overall for dropshippers.

Who Owns Alibaba and AliExpress?

Both Alibaba and AliExpress are owned by the Alibaba Group. The Alibaba Group was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma and a team of developers and co-founders. Since then, the company has started different child companies focused on other areas of commerce and technology.

Alibaba vs AliExpress: Which One is Right for Your Needs?

For dropshippers, both Alibaba and AliExpress can hold value. Both can connect you with suppliers in Asia offering lower-priced goods for sale.

Alibaba Is For You If…

If you are looking to order products wholesale, then Alibaba is the right choice for you. Suppliers on Alibaba offer wholesale pricing giving you a lower per-item cost. This can be a good option for successful dropshippers looking to carry inventory for their best-selling products.

AliExpress Is For You If…

If you are just starting dropshipping and want a wide selection of products to choose from. With over 100 million products, you can find many different items focused around a niche or fill in the gaps of your current dropshipping store.

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