AliExpress dropshipping has gotten a lot of publicity in recent years, with established businesses sharing their success stories about how it helped them grow. It’s been touted as a magical eCommerce site that lets anyone to dropship from China at no cost. If you want to wrap your head around how easy it can be to start dropshipping, we break it down in just five simple steps.
While that’s partially true, not everything about dropshipping with AliExpress is amazing. It has pros and cons.
In this post, we’re going to tell you exactly how to dropship on AliExpress from the ground up, step by step, with little to no money. We’ll also run you through the good and bad of the dropship model so there are no surprises.
Let’s get started!
Started in 1999, the company was a result of Ma not being able to find Chinese products online easily. The resulting platform enables Western buyers to connect with Chinese and Asian sellers and has revolutionized eCommerce around the globe.
Alibaba, the original site, is built for wholesale purchases. Sellers usually have minimum bulk order requirements. You can directly connect with Chinese manufacturers to place orders, and payment is usually via bank transfer.
AliExpress is its sister site and is made for smaller retailers who don't stock the products they're selling, and it accepts credit card payments. Think of it as Amazon, but cheaper and with a two-week delivery time.
So the main difference between AliExpress and Alibaba is that Alibaba is used for buying directly from the manufacturer, whereas on AliExpress the sellers are actually third-party individuals or companies who are reselling to you. You won’t get the best price, but the buyer protection and ability to make single orders makes it perfect for dropshippers.
AliExpress vs. Alibaba - Which one is better for beginners?
AliExpress is set up more for dropshippers who are after single items as there are no minimum order requirements. Whereas Alibaba is focused on the purchase of bulk items. The payment methods reflect this too. The methods in AliExpress are a lot more desirable for beginners. Whereas, Alibaba focuses on payment methods for wholesale markets and buying in bulk.
However, Alibaba does provide cheaper product prices and can customize products as they work directly with manufacturers. But there is more admin involved with time spent organizing what you can get and figuring out licenses.
So the answer is it really depends. Some dropshippers start out on AliExpress and move to Alibaba when they increase their sales volume. Perhaps this is the best option!
Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, in this case, it actually is true. Let me explain:
Because these manufacturers mass produce goods, they can sell them for pennies on the dollar.
We’re talking fancy jewelry for under $0.30 a piece, nice shirts for $1, and even electronics for a few bucks that you can resell for $50 or more.
“But I still have to buy products, so I need some money!”
Actually, you don’t. That’s where the drop shipping comes in.
You don’t have to buy a thing until you get an order on your website. So you pay for your products with the money your customers pay you.
Now, you might be thinking…
“What about shipping costs? It’s coming from China - it must cost a ton!”
Nope. With the invention of ePacket shipping, you can get these items from China for free. (Or at the most, a dollar or two.)
The only startup money you need is enough to buy a domain and hosting. So less than $20.
Now, let’s talk about what you actually need to do.
Dropshipping simply means when your customer makes a purchase from your site, you order the item from your Chinese supplier and they ship the item to your customer. You don’t need to hold any inventory or worry about packaging and shipping.
Dropshipping from AliExpress requires you to first set up a store or have a place to sell your goods, like Amazon or eBay.
When a customer makes a purchase, you place the order with the seller on AliExpress. The seller ships the items and you keep the difference in prices as profit.
Once the item is sent to your customer, they believe it’s from you. There’s no reason to know it’s a dropshipping process.
As you get bigger and scale your store, you can send in bulk orders to these suppliers for better rates and terms. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right suppliers from the start and build a relationship with them.
But what about returns?
We’ll discuss those later in this guide. For now, let’s talk pros and cons.
There are good and bad things to using AliExpress for dropshipping. Here they are:
The great benefit of working with AliExpress is that it offers a lot of protection for buyers during ordering, shipping, and in case of returns. The site’s functions have been designed to keep the buyer in mind through every phase of the sale.
It’s in the best interest of AliExpress to make sure that its sellers are legitimate and deliver the goods as advertised.
However, it’s important when you’re choosing a seller on AliExpress that you take into account the company's ratings and number of products sold.
There will be a lot of merchants selling the same item, so read what people are writing and only purchase from those sellers who have the best ratings.
One thing you should always do as a dropshipper is reach out and contact the sellers directly. Start a conversation with them, talk to them about the product, and make sure you’re working with someone reliable.
There are multiple shipping options on AliExpress, but ePacket delivery offers the best balance of price and shipping time.
Previously, items shipped from China were sent by sea, requiring up to 2+ months for delivery in some cases. As a dropshipper, you can’t keep your customers waiting that long.
If you do, your customers will either cancel their order or leave bad reviews, neither of which is good for your online business.
Thankfully, ePacket shipping has been introduced for Hong Kong and China, allowing for your customers to get their drop shipped goods in 12-14 days. ePacket delivery is available for goods up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) in weight and with a value less than $400.
Other than the shipping time reduction, the other benefits of ePacket shipment are that you can provide your customers with end-to-end tracking. Customs duties are already paid for, allowing for quicker delivery direct to your customers.
ePacket delivery was once only available to U.S. customers, but has now been expanded to a growing list of more than 30 countries.
Meeting your customer's shipping needs will be one of your customer’s biggest priorities as a dropshipper. That’s why it’s especially important that you spend the time to find a good supplier and change suppliers if they aren’t using ePacket delivery.
Your customers are used to Amazon and other services where they can get their goods overnight. This is one of the biggest reasons they’re so successful.
The more you can lower your shipping time, the greater your customer satisfaction will be. So make sure you spend the extra fees for ePacket delivery and ensure your customers get what they want in a timely manner.
Firstly, let’s discover how to find a niche.
Choosing a niche and selling online should be a relatively simple process and can be broken down into easy steps. However, implementing them in real life can be a lot of work.
The easiest way to narrow down your niche and start selling products is to find a hot market. You need to find a market where people are spending money and which they are passionate about. As well as solve problems for your customers.
The next thing to think about is to figure out what your customers are having trouble with.
Then. Offer your customers what they want!
Well, maybe not in practice. When you first start an online business, the hard part is finding a product, or coming up with an offer that meets customers' needs and creates a strong impulse to click that buy button.
People want more than a product in their shopping cart. A product is a commodity that can be easily replaced with something similar or cheaper.
When entering a niche, try to stand out.
In any business model, it's important to offer something of value other than just the product. For example, if you are selling coconut oil, give people a recipe book with different ways they can use your product.
If you can create long-lasting value for your customers, they will buy from your eCommerce store over and over again.
To recap, in order to determine what kind of niche you should be in:
The great thing about AliExpress is that you can complete Steps 1 & 2 on its site.
You can find hot markets and come up with product ideas by going to AliExpress’ bestselling page. Here you can see all of the top AliExpress products in different categories and look for an item or similar items that you might want to bundle together.
In the product listings you can delve further into customer reviews, view pictures they took, and discover any differences there may be between the product listing and the actual product upon delivery.
This last point is extremely important; many pictures or descriptions can be deceiving, so it's absolutely important that you verify through reviews or by buying the product yourself.
A few other ways to find products for your niche:
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at finding products in AliExpress.
A couple of ways to find high quality products is to check the order number and product rating. Look for products that have over 300 orders. This tells you that the product is in demand and the seller is reliable. Also, the star rating is a good indicator of the quality of the product. This is a good time to check the seller rating too. Ideally, you want this to be well over 90%.
For example, take a look at the women's puffer jacket below. As you can see the item has a 4.7 star rating, 548 orders and the supplier has a 95.3% positive feedback rating.
Once you have set up your online store the next step is adding products.
The easiest way to do this is through third party applications. Such as SaleHoo Dropship, Oberlo or BigCommerce. Although, you can manually upload products to your store but this will take significant time and good record keeping.
A few eCommerce tips and things to think about when adding products to your store:
Bonus: Scaling and Growing your AliExpress Dropshipping store:
Once you have set up and added products to your store you will want to get people to it right?!
Below are a few tips you might like to try to promote scale and grow your store:
Check out this guide for more in-depth tips on how to drive traffic to your eCommerce store!
Here is a quick step by step to smooth out the process:
Before you start dropshipping with AliExpress, you'll need a platform to sell and market your products. One of the best platforms out there is Shopify. It's very easy to setup and get started, plus it's very easy to use so you can create a store in just a few hours.
If you are using Shopify then check out SaleHoo Dropship. It easily imports products from AliExpress to your store at the click of a button. The best thing with SaleHoo Dropship is that it sorts out all the shoddy, scamming AliExpress suppliers and vets out the credible, trusted ones so that you're only working with trustworthy suppliers. This is extremely important if you want to keep customers happy and refund rates low.
Then, once you receive an order on your website you will go and order that product from your seller on AliExpress who will ship the product directly to your customer. (When you are selecting the shipping option make sure that you select to use ePacket shipping though, as for some AliExpress sellers it's not the default option).
Bear in mind when ordering products through AliExpress, it usually takes 24 hours for the order to be processed. During this time, your order will remain unfulfilled. Once the item is paid for and shipped by the seller you have to update your customer’s order information by adding the tracking info and sending them a receipt email with this info.
However, SaleHoo Dropship makes this process easy. It just takes a few clicks to process your order on AliExpress, track the shipping, and monitor delivery as well as populate tracking information.
Because AliExpress is a worldwide service, it offers a wide variety of payment methods.
Credit cards are the most common payment method. AliExpress accepts Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, and American Express.
The biggest benefit of using a credit card is that in case returns and refunds are not given or you receive a poor product on AliExpress, you can always file a dispute with the credit card company and request a chargeback. This protection is not available on some of the other types of payment and should be a must for any dropshipper.
Alternatively, AliExpress offers these additional payment methods:
When you first sign up it takes two to five days for AliExpress to verify your card details. During this time you won’t be able to process any orders.
AliExpress’ Buyer Protection Program has been designed to favor buyers over sellers. The company wants to ensure that you get exactly what you order and protect you at every stage of ordering through delivery.
However, be aware that many suppliers will not offer refunds.
You will have to factor that in as a cost of your business. When there is an issue, it will probably be because an order doesn't arrive or it doesn’t match the description.
If the order never arrives, AliExpress will refund the entire purchase. You’ll have to wait for the end of the delivery period, which is around 45 days, to receive your money back.
If the order is not as described, you can return it to the seller to get a full refund, or you can let the customer keep the item and offer them a partial refund.
In this case, you’ll have to work with both the AliExpress supplier and the customer to make sure the latter remains happy. The customer will have to provide photos of the damaged or non-matching item in order for you to be able to make the dispute.
In any case, there are many options for you as a dropshipper. Just be aware that your business needs to have some liquid cash reserves to continue making orders in case there are a lot of return requests.
Growing your AliExpress dropshipping business is the same as growing a regular eCommerce business. One major difference, however, is that you have more money to allocate to marketing, advertising, and branding as you wouldn't need to spend money purchasing and storing inventory. With dropshipping, you can also test different products to find a winning product. That way, you don't have to waste money on products that aren't selling and can quickly allocate budget to products that are making profits. In a nutshell, the best way to grow your dropshipping business is by continuously testing products and growing your product lineup with profitable products while getting rid of loss-making products.
You might be shocked to see how cheap AliExpress are. The reason AliExpress products are so cheap is that they come straight from the manufacturer which means you are getting a price between wholesale and retail. In other words, they cut out the middle man. Of course, the suppliers can't sell the products to you at wholesale prices because you aren't buying in bulk but you're not paying for a full retail price either. You'll also be surprised to find that shipping on AliExpress is quite often free. However, be aware that shipping times can be quite long.
If you're dropshipping on a platform such as Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, or Facebook Marketplace, you might not need any capital to start dropshipping from AliExpress. That's because you don't need to pay for a website and since there are tons of traffic on those sites, you don't need to do much in terms of advertising or marketing. However, if you want to build your own website and create a brand, you'll need around $173 USD at least. You can view a full breakdown here of how much it costs to start dropshipping.
It really depends on what country you want to ship to. Most of the time, there's a free shipping option but that's not available in all locations. The free shipping option usually takes quite a long time (sometimes months!) so you'll want to consider the other shipping options too. You'll need to filter to the location you want to ship to to view the shipping fee options and timeline.
Once again, it depends on which shipping option you go for. There will most likely be a free shipping option to the US but it could take quite a long time. There are also other shipping options that are listed when you check out. It will state the price, what shipping company they'll use, and how long it'll take to deliver.
No, they won't know. However, it's always good to drop a reminder to the supplier that you're dropshipping in case they add any catalogs, pamphlets, invoices, etc that can hint to the customer that their product has been shipped from another supplier.
AliExpress products ship from China. However, some of the suppliers have warehouses in the US that can ship very quickly to US based customers. It takes some digging to find these suppliers but they can also easily be found in apps such as SaleHoo Dropship.
Yes, AliExpress does have premium shipping options. The default option is a free shipping method but if you click on 'More Options' near the shipping options, you'll be able to see other options for shipping. You'll be able to find shipping times, company names, and the cost of delivery.
To pay for items on AliExpress, you can use credit and debit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, Wire Transfer, Western Union, or Pay Later if the product is $30 USD or over.
Hang in there - we’re almost done!
Before I leave you guys to start your own dropshipping business, here are three final tips to help you succeed in your new dropshipping venture.
While some of your more savvy customers will probably work out that you’re dropshipping your products, you should do what you can to make this less obvious.
One way of doing this?
When you place your order, add a note and request for your supplier to not include any promotional or packing slip materials in the package.
AliExpress is chock-full of designer knock-offs…
...but I’d recommend avoiding these like the plague.
If you don’t state (explicitly!) that these are copycat products, you could get gullible consumers who purchase them, thinking that they’re buying discounted branded items.
When they eventually get their item, and realize it’s not the real deal, be prepared to have your inbox flooded.
On the other hand, you could state that these aren’t genuine designer goods on your website…
...but this just feels like you’re asking for trouble.
I mean, famous designers rarely sue small-time eCommerce stores, but you never know.
At the end of the day, it’s much easier to just sell non-branded items!
As we have mentioned in this post AliExpress product photos and descriptions can sometimes be very subpar. To make your products stand out, be sure to take the time to craft great product descriptions and copy. As well as taking or choosing as high quality photos as possible.
This means clearly identifying shipping times and providing them with tracking numbers as soon as possible. Also, remember to use ePacket and if you can offer free shipping!
It also helps to provide great customer support. Be quick to reply to customer's queries and provide a refund policy. This means you have to have great communication with your supplier too so you can resolve any issues quickly!
To smooth out the process make sure you have ordered the product you are selling and have gone through the entire customer experience. This way you will know exactly what it is like to order from your supplier and have put yourself in the customer's shoes.
Still not sure whether you want to take the plunge into the world of dropshipping?
If you’re still hesitating, here’s an easier option which you might be interested in:
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
You set up a website and promote various AliExpress products on this website.
When your readers are interested in buying the product, they click on the links on your website, and they’re redirected to AliExpress.
When they make their purchase, the AliExpress merchant pays you an affiliate fee.
Your job is simply to get customers intrigued about the product…
...you don’t need to place orders, deal with inquiries, or handle returns.
And you’ll get a minimum of 8.5% commission!
In comparison, Amazon affiliates get 4% commission on average - so AliExpress certainly isn’t scrimping when it comes to rewarding their affiliates!
No inventory needed.
No shipping costs.
What more could you ask for?
It doesn’t matter if you’re living in a 1-bedroom apartment and have no space to keep your stocks.
Hell, it doesn’t even matter if you’re living in your mom’s basement.
All you need to do is to cough up $20 or so for your domain name and your Shopify account…
...and you can get your dropshipping business set up.
Plus: 22-33% of online retailers have adopted dropshipping as their primary method of order fulfillment.
This means that dropshipping is a tried-and-tested model, and one that’s definitely profitable.
Time to stop being a salaried employee, and start building a business you can call your own.
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