Alibaba vs. AliExpress

Considering Alibaba owns AliExpress and their names sound so similar, we’re hardly surprised that there may be some questions around what each platform does. While both are online marketplaces for suppliers to list goods for buyers to purchase (similar to Amazon), their key difference is the type of customers each serves. Alibaba is for wholesale buying, where goods can be purchased in bulk at lower prices, while AliExpress is where goods are retailed - that is, sold individually and at slightly higher prices.

  Alibaba AliExpress
Online Marketplace    
Retail Suppliers    
Wholesale Suppliers    
24/7 Customer Service    
Free to Use    
Customer Protections    

Intro

We’ve briefly outlined the main difference between Alibaba and AliExpress - that being that Alibaba is for buying in wholesale whereas AliExpress is for buying individual products - but we will dive a lot deeper for the rest of the article so you can determine which platform may be more useful for you or your business.

Even though this is a comparison article, we’ll say right off the bat that it wouldn’t be accurate to claim that one is ‘better’ than the other. This is because both have similar features and are owned by the same company (Alibaba Group), but meet different needs.

Instead, the aim of this article is to help you understand how each platform can help you.

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Tip: Dropshipping is a global phenomenon where you can sell products online without having physical inventory. When a buyer places an order, you can get the supplier of the product to directly pack and ship the item to the customer! Many sellers on Alibaba and AliExpress are open to dropshipping arrangements. Want to find out more about dropshipping? We’ve come up with a guide to get you started in just five steps!

General Overview

Alibaba is a Chinese mega-marketplace for all categories of goods. In 2020, it generated $72 billion of revenue and is growing at a faster rate than the current global leader, Amazon.

Alibaba Group is the parent company of AliExpress, which was launched as a direct-to-consumer initiative for customers wanting to buy individual items online, rather than in bulk.

Both platforms are known for their huge number of goods available at eye-bogglingly good prices, but they aren’t quite as well regarded for their quality or the customer service available, which is why we’ll provide you with a few recommendations for using each.

We’ve provided a more in-depth comparison of the two marketplaces in the following table.

General Overview Alibaba AliExpress
Online Marketplace    
Retail Suppliers    
Wholesale Suppliers    
Bulk Pricing    
Buy Per Unit    
Extensive Product Search Filters    
Range of Shipping Options    
24/7 Customer Service    
Free to Use    
Customer Protections    

Alibaba Marketplace

What should it be used for?

The Alibaba marketplace has been developed as a place to source products to buy in bulk at wholesale prices.

Wholesale prices are generally lower than retail prices as they do not incorporate additional retail costs (such as marketing expenses, or rent, if the goods are sold in a physical store). For this reason, products are likely to be cheaper on Alibaba than AliExpress with the catch that you can’t buy individual units.

Generally, as the quantity you purchase increases, the cheaper the price per unit becomes. Suppliers are also open to pricing negotiations depending on your particular needs. The platform is very much focused on facilitating relationships between suppliers and business owners (buyers) and so much like any business negotiations, an agreement can be reached between the seller and buyer about minimum order quantities and pricing.

Most suppliers on Alibaba are open to customization, which means they can develop or manufacture products to meet your specifications, or brand their products with your logo (commonly known as ‘private labeling.’) However, on AliExpress, it is not typical to get products customized.

You can also buy raw materials and packaging products on Alibaba, which are not typically available on AliExpress as they focus on finished goods.

Screenshots of Alibaba Marketplace
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Tip: Finding good suppliers is vital to the success of your business, which is why we’ve made a guide on how to find the best ones on Alibaba.

Who should use Alibaba?

As you may have gathered, the Alibaba marketplace may be best suited for business owners who wish to buy products to resell.

As an individual buyer, while the extremely low prices on Alibaba may be tempting, you don’t want to have to buy 100 units of the same item!

The main pro of buying in wholesale, is your access to lower prices, while the main con is having to hold your own inventory to sell.

Recommendations for Using Alibaba

  • Be aware that sellers do not have to be vetted before they are able to list their products on Alibaba. Good things to look out for when identifying potential suppliers include the ‘verified supplier’ badge. Another good way to identify trustworthy sellers can be by using a wholesale supplier directory.
  • Read the return policies and customer protection policies of each seller carefully.
  • Order samples before buying in bulk - the last thing you want is to spend a whole lot of money on inventory that isn’t what you’re expecting.
  • Write a supplier outreach template with questions that you need to ask potential suppliers. This can save you a lot of time from having to type out the same questions for each different supplier.
  • Reach out to a range of potential suppliers to identify the best prices and find those who are willing to be the most helpful. Not all suppliers are created equal, so it is good to consider a range of options before making any purchases. 
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Tip: Are you here as a business owner? We’ve come up with a list of low-cost, high-profit margin products to give you some inspiration.

AliExpress Marketplace

What should it be used for?

The AliExpress marketplace is a great place to find a whole range of products at extremely reasonable prices that can be purchased individually.

With an inexhaustible range of products, you can be confident that you will be able to find something you’re after.

Because items on AliExpress are available for individual sale, you are likely to pay a higher price for them than you would if you were buying them wholesale on Alibaba. However, considering how cheap these prices are to begin with, you are hardly likely to notice the extra cost. We are usually talking around a few more dollars per unit.

It’s also useful to be aware that shipping times can be long, so if you need a product urgently then AliExpress may not be the best option. It can be a great place for buying gifts, but the same applies, you will need to order well in advance if you want it to arrive on time.

The main pro of AliExpress is the massive range of products available and their low prices, which often beat those found anywhere else (including Amazon and eBay). The main con is that finding the right product can be time consuming because there is so much competition on the platform and also the long shipping times don’t make it the most useful for urgent purchases. 

Many suppliers on AliExpress will dropship for you on request. To remind you, dropshipping is where you sell products for customers to buy online, but the supplier of those products will ship orders to buyers on your behalf, meaning you don’t have to carry any inventory and bear the associated costs.

If you are interested in dropshipping, there are lots of tools out there that can be used in combination with AliExpress to help you easily import AliExpress products into your online store to sell.

Tools such as SaleHoo Dropship act like a filter for AliExpress, where only vetted products and suppliers from AliExpress can make it onto the SaleHoo platform to then be imported directly to your store.

Dropshipping tools such as these can save you lots of time so that you don’t have to manually input product variants and write descriptions - they can all be picked up directly from AliExpress product listings. Many dropshipping tools can also help you monitor order fulfillment and streamline the dropshipping process.

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Tip: Figuring out what type of dropshipping store you want to build can be tricky. We’ve come up with a guide to give you some bestselling product ideas and useful market research tools.

Screenshots of AliExpress Marketplace

Who should use AliExpress?

AliExpress is best suited to buyers who are looking for products for personal use or for gifting. It is also suited for business owners wishing to dropship their products.

Buyers on AliExpress are unlikely to need hundreds of the same product (unless they want to do a serious stock up for winter hibernation, or an impending apocalypse!) so AliExpress offers the perfect place for them to get cheap, finished products directly from China.

Recommendations for Using AliExpress

  • Read the customer reviews and identify the number of orders that have been placed for each product you’re considering (displayed by each listing). If a product has a high number of positive reviews you can feel more confident about the quality of the product and that it will look like the pictures and do what it says it does.
  • Use the extensive product search filters to help you narrow down your options and identify the right products quickly. 
  • Read the return policies and customer protection policies of each seller carefully.

Top Alternatives

We hope you now have a better idea about what each platform can be used for.

If you are a business owner, there are a lot of tools out there that can be used to complement Alibaba or AliExpress. You may wish to use a dropshipping tool that can help you import products directly from AliExpress into your online store to sell.

We have included some relevant articles below to help you find out about some of these tools and how they can help you.

As we mentioned, there is no requirement for suppliers to be vetted before listing on Alibaba or AliExpress, which means you will need to proceed with caution when making purchases so you don’t encounter any scams or suppliers making false claims.

Another option you might consider is using a supplier directory to identify trustworthy suppliers that have undergone a vetting process. There are also lots of wholesale supplier directories available out there. Most will charge a modest amount to access.

Q&A Discussion

If you have any questions about Alibaba, AliExpress, SaleHoo or eCommerce in general, then we encourage you to reach out to one of our 24/7 customer support team members and we can help you out in no time.

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