AliExpress is a well-known dropshipping platform, but can you trust it? We take an in-depth look at how to use it best for your business.
Are you new to dropshipping, or interested in beginning to scale the small success you’ve managed to cultivate? You likely have heard about AliExpress as a low-cost dropshipping platform, but you may have also heard a lot of criticisms and warnings about using the service.
To be clear, EcommOps does not work with dropshipping businesses. This article is for people who are dropshipping, or are interested in creating an online business. Many of our clients started out using the dropshipping business model but we can’t work with businesses until they hit a high volume of orders (over 50 orders per day) and are ready to build a sustainable supply chain.
Can I Trust AliExpress?
Yes. AliExpress is fine for starting out or testing new products. Their budget-friendly costs create a low barrier of entry ideal for new or up-and-coming dropshippers. As your business grows and you become interested in scaling up your business or solidifying your brand, you will want to work with a China fulfillment center (like us!). If your online stores are running with less than 50 daily orders, or if you are just getting started, AliExpress can help get you launch into ecommerce without busting your budget.
However, as with any budget service, you’ll need to follow specific steps to make sure you don’t fall victim to a low-quality seller. The following steps can help you find great, low-cost sellers and build successful long-term relationships with them until you are ready to move to either a dropshipping agent or China fulfillment center.
How to Use AliExpress
1. Find Multiple Sellers for a Single Product
Search the platform for multiple sellers that all sell the same product you’re interested in. Ideally, you want at least 5-10 sellers that you can compare. Depending on your specific product, this may not always be possible. However, sellers on AliExpress are quick to stock inventory for trending products. Even if you are trying to sell a relatively new trending product, you should have little trouble finding multiple sellers with it available.
Remember, be sure to look at the product carefully. You want to be selling the genuine product, not a knock-off that looks similar. Accidentally selling lower-quality versions of products out of your store can bring your growth to a screeching halt.
2. Narrow Down Sellers via Store Ranking and Number of Store Reviews
Once you have a solid pool of sellers that offer your product, it’s time to compare their reviews. You’re looking to narrow down to the top 3-5 sellers for your product. The more positive reviews a store has, the better.
You may find that the product itself has very few reviews, especially if you are selling a trending product. A lack of product reviews on a trending product is ok as long as the store selling the product has several hundred reviews with an overall high rating. Experienced AliExpress sellers will regularly stock inventory for new, trending products. If the store you have chosen is clearly a well-established store, you will generally be fine choosing a newer product with them.
How Highly Rated Should a Store Be?
There isn’t an exact formula for a rating cut-off for AliExpress stores in consideration. However, you will usually be looking for an overall store rating of around 97% with several hundred reviews.
3. Contact the Sellers!
Remember, the sellers are AliExpress are real people. Before making an investment with any given seller, you should try communicating with them. If they don’t respond, or the way they respond makes you feel uneasy, it’s an easy way to further whittle down your list of potential sellers. This is also a great way to vet a store that looks promising but is right on the line of an acceptable store rating.
What Questions Should I Ask a Seller?
Any seller worth doing business with should at least attempt to provide an answer to the following questions:
- What is your processing time? (How long does it take you to ship out after an order is placed)
- How long does your shipping take to A, B, C countries? (Ask about countries you anticipate most of your orders will be shipped to)
- How much inventory do you carry? Do they have the ability to send out quickly if you start selling 20, 30, 50 per day?
- What happens if a package gets lost or damaged?
- What does the packaging look like? Can you see a picture? Can any Chinese instruction be removed, etc?
It’s important to note that you may not be able to trust all of the information your sellers give you (especially in regard to their inventory). However, getting any kind of response will help you further narrow down your list of potential sellers. Compare how quickly they respond and how well they communicate in addition to the content of their answers. This should get you down to one (maybe two) sellers that you can choose.
4. Build a Relationship with Your Seller
The fulfillment business is a demanding, high-stress field, and whether or not a seller is good depends on whether or not they end up working hard for you. So, give them a reason to work hard for you.
As you begin scaling, communicate with them so they are prepared for your increasing orders. If they do something great, give them some praise. If you make them feel like they are partnering with you, they will be more likely to prioritize your orders over others.
How Can I Communicate More Easily with My Seller?
Get WeChat. It is the number one messaging app in the Chinese market and your seller almost certainly uses it. It functions much better than the built-in communication services on AliExpress. And the emojis are great :D.
5. Ask How to Improve and Expand
As you begin to grow your business with a seller and sales start to become more consistent, start asking them for ways to improve the overall process. Many will provide CSV fulfillment or help with a simple branded insert. Simply asking them can provide you with services that normally only a dropshipping agent would provide.
Sellers on AliExpress can also help you expand your product portfolio by giving leads on similar trending products within your niche. They likely have lists of hundreds or thousands of products that you could cross-sell with your current product line or upsell from your current products.
If you have a dropshipping agent, they won’t (or shouldn’t) provide this service. We consider it bad taste to give away successful client products, so EcommOps never shares client product information. However, this is a pretty normal practice through sellers on AliExpress, so take advantage of it!
AliExpress isn’t terrible. It is simply a platform. You can find terrible sellers there, but you can also find great sellers. Do your due diligence in finding a quality seller before jumping into selling to ensure your success! Once you’re feeling confident with your seller, or sellers, it’s time to take it to the next level! After the foundation is laid with these entry-level sellers and you are ready to scale up sales and solidify a brand, it will be time to start looking for a dropshipping agent or a China fulfillment center to help really grow your business.
Once you’re hitting at least 50 orders a day and want to work with the best China fulfillment center in Shenzhen, get in touch with EcommOps. We help ecomm businesses to rapidly scale, contact us using our online form to speak with a fulfillment expert.
1. Why isn’t the product price mentioned in this guide?
While you want to be mindful of a seller price-gouging you, the competition on AliExpress is fierce and they are usually priced close enough. The difference in $.25 on a $6 product is far less important than days or even weeks worth of difference in shipping, great communication, fast replacement for lost or stolen goods, or any other factor that makes the customer experience better and more reliable.
2. Can/should you negotiate the price with the seller?
You can, but it doesn’t mean you should. Any given seller is going to have some wiggle room within their margins, but the less money they make from you, the less likely they are to go the extra mile to make sure your business is successful.
Once you are well-established with the seller and have 30-50 daily orders, then consider negotiating on price. However, once your sales volume reaches this amount, you should be considering working with an individual such as a dropshipping agent or a full-service China fulfillment center to keep scaling.
3. What about poor communication due to low levels of English?
Unfortunately, this is going to be a fact of life with working with the vast majority of sellers through AliExpress. Even if their English seems great at first, most will be communicating through language software that will make more complex communication difficult. Of course, there are some tips you can follow to make communication between you and the seller easier, regardless of their level of English:
- Use simple sentence structure: Your sentences should be as basic as possible. For example, say “How many days before you ship new orders?” as opposed to “After I place an order, what’s your typical policy for getting the shipment out the door?”
- Avoid misspellings, slang, text speech, and idioms: For example, avoid abbreviations like btw, fyi, and others. Proofread all communication carefully, as a misspelled word may not be translatable through their language software.
- Reiterate, rephrase, and repeat important points: If it seems like your seller doesn’t understand something important, try to find a more simple way to say it. And even if they do appear to understand it, you should continue to repeat and reiterate points to ensure that they actually do.
- Check Google Translate: This isn’t always necessary, but running statements through Google Translate can be helpful. Take a sentence with an important point, translate it to Chinese, and then back to English. If it comes back as complete nonsense, it is likely the seller got complete nonsense in the Chinese translation and you may need to rephrase what you said. Not something you always want to do, but it’s a fun exercise!
4. Should I consider a seller that uses U.S. fulfillment?
In general, no, especially if you are trying to scale. One of the biggest problems they face is that they use 3rd party warehouses that they have no direct control over. If you do a test order or a very small amount of orders with them, they seem fine at first. As you start to get more sales, however, it becomes clear that their inventory is quite limited and that restocking takes a very long time. This means you can expect very unhappy customers with orders that are delayed by weeks or even months. In general, these sellers are not worth the risk and should be avoided.