AliExpress is a great retail platform that has been around for years. It was the reason why dropshipping became so popular in the 2010’s, and it’s still used today by beginner dropshipping stores. While AliExpress isn’t well-suited to help businesses grow and scale, it still remains as one of the best options to test new products.
EcommOps encourages businesses to use AliExpress to test products, especially if they are just entering the e-commerce industry, though it should be clear that we do not partner with dropshipping stores. Instead, we help dropshipping businesses transition away from this unreliable fulfillment model to more traditional (but still flexible) supply chain strategies, including direct-from-China fulfillment.
In this article, we’re going to go more in-depth about why you shouldn’t use AliExpress to scale, but why you should use it to test new products. We’ll also give some do’s and don’ts to follow when you use Aliexpress to test products.
Why You Shouldn’t Use AliExpress to Scale
AliExpress played a key role in supporting the explosion of dropshipping. It served as an easy, convenient connecting point between e-commerce businesses and sellers, and it made it easy to connect customers with novel, interesting products in China that were not yet available in Western markets.
However, as time has moved on, AliExpress (and dropshipping in general) isn’t as effective as it used to be. This is especially true when businesses begin to consider scaling with a product that appears successful. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you shouldn’t use AliExpress to scale:
Customers Have Refined Their Tastes and Have Higher Expectations
In the early days of dropshipping, a store could have a spattering of random products that were offered with 1-2 month shipping times, and businesses could make a lot of money. Access to inexpensive, novel products was enough for most customers to be happy with their orders, even if shipping times were long or if quality wasn’t quite up to par.
Negative feedback from customers was also far less impactful. There wasn’t necessarily a centralized location for feedback, and selling through social media fronts was far less refined. Businesses could absorb negative feedback much more easily as they refined their product offerings and general customer experience.
Nowadays, the market landscape has changed dramatically. Customers have refined and higher expectations of their shopping experience. Products in low-quality, cheap-looking bags that take several weeks to arrive just aren’t tolerated by most customers anymore, so negative feedback is far more likely.
That negative feedback is also far more impactful. Consistent bad reviews from customers can get your business restricted on Facebook (or other social media platforms). Payment processors, like PayPal or Stripe, may begin to withhold funds if you have to constantly give refunds or discounts due to a poor customer experience.
Basically, customers have matured, and they want more out of their shopping experience than what traditional dropshipping, and AliExpress, have to offer.
AliExpress Sellers Have Fewer Cost-Effective and Reliable Shipping Options
Sellers on AliExpress have fewer shipping options to offer businesses, so most won’t be as cost-effective or as reliable as they could be. That doesn’t mean AliExpress doesn’t offer several shipping options, but it does mean that most of the shipping options on AliExpress should not be used. Let’s take a look at some common options:
- Epacket: Epacket was frequently used during the big boom of dropshipping in the late 2010’s. However, it was never intended to be used for e-commerce, and its weaknesses were highlighted when the COVID-19 lockdowns hit. Epacket still hasn’t recovered and isn’t competitive in pricing, speed, or reliability.
- AliExpress Standard Shipping: AliExpress Standard Shipping is decent enough, and is the only shipping option we recommend businesses use (outside of the gold-standard shipping lines, like YunExpress).
- Other budget options: AliExpress will often offer super cheap shipping options (like small-post options or choices that don’t offer tracking). These options should never be used, as they are extremely unreliable.
Most sellers on AliExpress don’t have access to the high-quality, specialty e-commerce lines like YunExpress and others, so businesses are limited to these options. This makes scaling exceptionally difficult, which is why AliExpress isn’t a good option for businesses serious about scaling to demand.
AliExpress Sellers Aren’t Set Up Like a Real Supply Chain
It’s a common misconception that AliExpress is a dropshipping platform. It is not, and dropshipping platforms offer an experience and services that are distinct from AliExpress. It’s better to think about AliExpress as a China-based, world-wide Amazon. While dropshippers often use the platform, it’s not exclusively for dropshippers. Anyone can buy off AliExpress, if they want.
Since AliExpress is a traditional retail platform, the sellers aren’t set up like a traditional supply chain would be. That means they’re going to be lacking in some key areas that businesses need to successfully scale, like:
Sellers Don’t Hold Enough Stock to Support Scaling
Sellers don’t hold stock for businesses to scale. They hold stock for retail customers to buy their products. So imagine the following scenario:
- A seller is used to getting 10 orders a day for a product. Let’s say 5 of those orders are from random customers, and 5 of them are from one dropshipper testing a product.
- Lead times for the seller to restock is 5 days.
- The seller holds 50 units of stock at any time, which is plenty to accommodate 5 days of orders until they need to restock.
- The dropshipper testing their product suddenly scales from 5 orders a day to 100 orders a day.
The seller is not in a position to keep up with the dropshippers demand, and that dropshipper is going to find themselves with a lot of unhappy customers as shipping delays turn into weeks, or even months.
Sellers Don’t Usually Manage Factories
While there are some exceptions, most sellers on AliExpress don’t directly manage the factories producing their goods. This is because most AliExpress sellers sell a large variety of goods, with a low volume of any given particular product. So, these sellers don’t have the leverage to resolve production issues with factories (and they often don’t have the time).
It’s usually easier for sellers to just refund or resend products instead of working with factories to resolve core quality issues. While that may work well for the seller, that won’t work very well for you, since chronic quality issues and frequent returns makes it extremely challenging to scale.
If you have a winning product, managing factories though a standard supply chain will help resolve quality issues, and even opens the doors to product iterations down the road.
Inventory Numbers Are Not Accurate
The inventory numbers you see on AliExpress are almost always incorrect. This will be true of almost any seller you see, and AliExpress as a platform seems disinterested in addressing the problem. If you don’t know how much inventory a seller holds, it makes it impossible to create a plan to scale inventory to match rising demand.
AliExpress Is a Transactional Platform
Finally, as we said, AliExpress is a retail (or transactional) platform. Each order is paid for individually as it comes in, just like in a traditional online or brick-and-mortar retail store. Sellers know that customers come and go, and it’s hard for them to justify the inventory risk of building up a lot of stock for a dropshipper that could end up just disappearing in a week.
Not only is the platform just not suited for businesses looking to scale, but most sellers will be reluctant to make the investments necessary for businesses to scale. AliExpress just isn’t set up for businesses looking for real growth, which is why serious businesses shouldn’t use AliExpress like this.
However, AliExpress is perfect for testing products. Let’s talk about how.
Why You Should Consider AliExpress for Testing
AliExpress might be the best general option for testing products. While it’s not positioned to help businesses scale, it’s an easy, accessible option to see how new products perform on the market. There are three big reasons that make AliExpress so well-suited for this kind of use:
AliExpress Being a China-Based, Worldwide Amazon is a Positive for Testing
We mentioned before that AliExpress is essentially a China-based, worldwide Amazon, and while that’s a negative for businesses wanting to accommodate increasing demand, it’s a huge positive for testing products. Any given seller probably doesn’t have enough inventory to accommodate spikes in demand, but they do have some stock of what they advertise.
This ready-to-order stock is perfect for testing a product compared to having to go through the general sourcing process to find a supplier. Even the best dropshipping agents have to go through the process to source inventory, but having a wide range of unique inventory at your fingertips makes it easy to test product performance with very little investment.
Easy to Create a Product Page and Quickly Begin Selling
If you find a product you want to test, throwing up a product page and selling with AliExpress is very, very easy. As long as sales stay low (think 10-20 orders a day), then any given seller on AliExpress should be able to accommodate that without much issue. If sales explode (which is always the hope!) you should be considering moving to an order fulfillment partner anyway.
Should your test product fail, you’ve lost very, very little. There’s no wasted inventory (because you don’t have to pre-buy anything), so all you need to do is finish fulfilling your existing orders, take down the product page, and move on to the next product test.
No Sourcing or Product Quoting Process Needed
A good sourcing specialist or agent will take time to gather a large group of potential suppliers, to narrow down those suppliers based on your specific needs, to confirm quality through a sampling process, conduct pricing negotiations, and to begin production. These actions are good when sourcing proven products, but it’s a big investment for products you want to test.
When testing products with AliExpress, the sourcing process is skipped entirely. The products are already made and available to sell, which means you can quickly move to take advantage of fads or to try to put products on the market before other brands do. Should a product prove particularly successful, you can move to partner with a supplier to improve quality and get better margins.
If you’re testing several products at once, and using a traditional sourcing process to do so, the time and resources needed really add up, especially if you don’t have a high percentage of winners. However, using AliExpress helps to eliminate the time and resources needed (so risk is reduced), and since you can test several products at a time, it gives a good picture on what products should be pursued.
Do’s and Don’ts of Using AliExpress
Using AliExpress to test products is a great choice, but there are still good ways (and bad ways) to make use of the platform. Let’s take a look at some of the do’s (and some of the don’ts) of using AliExpress:
Do Your Homework on Potential Sellers
Every seller on AliExpress is different, so you shouldn’t just jump on the first choice you see. We recommend choosing 5-10 solid options, and then narrowing those choices down based on their seller rating (ideally 95%+), as well as by how good of a fit they are for your business needs.
The seller rating is far more important than the product rating, since many sellers constantly offer new products that may not have had time to be rated. We have found that high-quality sellers on AliExpress sometimes compete with the quality of may dropshipping agents, so it’s much better to find a seller that’s highly rated than a specific product that’s highly rated.
After you make your choice, keep one or two sellers as backups just in case something with your primary seller falls through. This will help you smoothly transition to a similar product (or the same product) without too much of a disruption.
Do Use AliExpress Standard Shipping
AliExpress Standard Shipping is honestly pretty decent, and we’ve found it to be a great balance between cost and reliability. Other shipping options often offered on AliExpress (like ePacket, small post options, or untracked options), just aren’t reliable enough to use for testing products.
If you happen to come across a seller that has access to special shipping lines (like 4PX, UBI, YunExpress), choose those options instead. They are the best choice for e-commerce shipping. It’s not common for AliExpress sellers to offer those special lines, so AliExpress Standard Shipping is your best bet when testing products.
Do Communicate with Your Seller
Businesses should make it a habit of communicating with their sellers, even if they don’t plan on working with them long-term. It’s just good practice, and it’s a great way to separate the good from the bad. If you aren’t sure what you should be communicating to your seller, consider asking about:
- What shipping lines they use
- Pictures of their products
- How much stock they have (though take their answer with a grain of salt, they may not be honest)
It can be easy to forget that it’s a human on the other side of your computer screen, and you may be surprised by how much help and support you get by doing your best to communicate with your seller.
Do Use Apps to Make Bulk Fulfillment Easier
Do not manually put in orders for bulk fulfillment. It takes too much time and there are much easier ways to get the task done. We recommend using DSers for bulk fulfillment. It’s the best tool we’ve used for bulk fulfillment, so make sure to get familiar with it before you begin selling.
Do Ask for a VIP Link if You Find a Great Seller
A VIP link on Aliexpress is a private link to a particular seller that is used exclusively by you. This is a great way to establish and maintain a great business relationship, and it lets your seller know you’re serious about doing business with them. Remember, some sellers are as good (or better) than dropshipping agents, so you should work to keep good sellers that you find.
It’s also worth asking a seller for CSV fulfillment (especially if they don’t end up giving you a VIP link). This makes fulfillment easier on your end, but it also shows the seller that you’re a business worth investing a little extra in (as opposed to random buyers or short-time dropshipping stores).
Do Communicate in Simple, Straightforward English
The majority of sellers on AliExpress know little to no English and will rely on translation tools to communicate. Complicated, uncommon words, misspellings, slang, idioms, and other obscure language will lead to misunderstandings. Do your best to communicate in simple, straightforward English, and you’ll find that it’s much easier to communicate with a seller.
Don’t Believe When Listings Say They Have U.S./U.K./E.U./Local Fulfillment
It’s common for listings to say that they offer local fulfillment in the U.S., U.K., and the E.U. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly rare for any sellers on AliExpress to offer local fulfillment from a local warehouse in the U.S. or Europe. The reason why sellers will claim this is because they’re using a special kind of shipping line and giving “last mile tracking.” Here’s how it works:
- A customer places an order through your store, which is received by the AliExpress seller in China
- The order gets shipped via YunExpress from China to the U.S.
- Eventually, the order generates a USPS tracking number, showing a USPS warehouse as the “first” location of the package (it will look like this is where the package began, but it’s not. It’s just when USPS got the package and generated a tracking number).
- Then, the package is shipped to the buyer with USPS packaging, making it appear it was shipped locally in the U.S.
This isn’t necessarily bad (after all, it can improve the customer experience, since everyone in the U.S. is familiar with the USPS), it’s important to understand that the order is not originating from a local U.S. warehouse.
If you’re working with a seller that says they offer local fulfillment, but they ask for 2-4 days to generate a tracking number to ship the package, they are almost always shipping from China. The seller is just trying to ship from China as fast as possible so a USPS tracking number can be generated in order to give the appearance of local fulfillment.
Our CEO has talked about last-mile shipping in-depth, if you’d like to know more specifics about this kind of shipping strategy.
Don’t Believe Stock Numbers
We’ve said this multiple times, but it bears repeating: don’t trust the advertised stock numbers. They are rarely accurate, and this is why it’s important to communicate with any seller you plan to work with. The seller may not be honest about their inventory, but the chances are better than just trusting the numbers on the product listing.
Transitioning from Testing to Investing with EcommOps:
If you test a product on AliExpress that’s successful, you don’t want to stay on AliExpress very long. You’ll need to move on to other services that are more equipped to help you scale. For small stores that may have outgrown AliExpress but aren’t ready for a 3PL, a dropshipping agent may be the best option.
For established businesses that anticipate high numbers, or are getting more than 500 orders a day, then it’s time to consider partnering with a 3PL that specializes in China fulfillment, like EcommOps. We help businesses establish real supply chains that are reliable, resilient, and flexible. Our benefits include:
- Bilingual Mandarin/English support
- Warehousing locating in Shenzhen, China
- Order fulfillment
- Inventory management
- Help businesses transition away from testing and dropshipping to genuine supply chains
If you have questions about product testing on AliExpress, or need help transitioning successful products off AliExpress, we’d love to help. You can fill out our webform, and we’ll be in touch!
AliExpress Product Testing FAQs
1. What is AliExpress?
AliExpress is a worldwide, online retail store based in China. While anyone can use AliExpress, it gained popularity among dropshippers, who used the platform as an easy product sourcing resource.
2. Why is it easy to start a dropshipping store or test products with AliExpress?
The reason why it’s easy to start a dropshipping store or to test products on AliExpress is because it requires very little work and very little investment. Once you find a seller you like, all you need to do is launch a product page, and you can start selling!
3. What should I consider when looking for a seller or supplier on AliExpress?
Generally, you want to look at the seller’s feedback score (not the product listing rating). The seller score lets you know how good the seller is at interacting with customers, and it’s more important to connect with a quality seller than it is to find a mediocre or low-quality seller that sells a product you’re interested in.
We recommend looking for seller feedback scores of 95% or higher.
4. What types of products are most successful when dropshipping or testing with AliExpress?
As with any dropshipping store, the most successful products tend to be:
- High margin
- New to a market (a market is not yet saturated with that kind of product)
Of course, there’s no set rule on what products will or won’t be successful, which is why product testing is so important.
5. What are common mistakes to avoid when using AliExpress?
Common mistakes to avoid when using AliExpress include:
- Not taking time to find a reliable seller
- Trying to use AliExpress to scale
- Not using clear, simple English with a seller
- Using budget shipping options (you should be using AliExpress Standard Shipping or a specialty line, if offered)
- Generally not making an effort to communicate with your seller
6. Why should I transition away from AliExpress if my product proves successful or popular?
The reason why you should transition away from AliExpress if your product is successful is because AliExpress is not a platform that supports scaling well. It’s difficult to tell what inventory is actually available, and sellers are more likely to refund purchases than address quality problems, which will hurt your brand reputation.
Fast, reliable, and cost-effective shipping is difficult to find on AliExpress, which will start to eat at your margins as your orders increase.
7. What does the dropshipping process look like when testing products on AliExpress?
Generally, this is what the testing process will look like:
- First, you’ll take time to find a quality seller
- After you pick a seller, make contact and ask questions (like the shipping they offer, how much inventory they have, and if they have pictures of the product).
- Once you’re ready to begin selling, you’ll create a product page that sends orders to AliExpress for fulfillment.
This process doesn’t involve sourcing products or pre-paying for inventory, which makes it ideal for quickly and easily testing a number of different products.