What is AliExpress and How Does it Work?

Written by

Darren DeMatas



Written by

Darren DeMatas


Reviewed By Our team of writers and content creators are experts in ecommerce and we fact-check every claim in our work to ensure it’s accurate and up-to-date. (Learn about our editorial guidelines.).

Chances are, you’ve heard of AliExpress.com, but you’re unsure what it is or how it works. AliExpress is an online marketplace connecting buyers from around the world with sellers in China. It’s similar to Amazon in that respect, but a few key differences set AliExpress apart.

In this post, we’ll take a comprehensive look at AliExpress, how it works, how to use it without getting scammed, and whether or not it’s a good platform for your ecommerce business.

What is AliExpress?

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is an online marketplace launched by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba Group. Like Amazon, AliExpress offers various products ranging from electronics and fashion to home goods and toys. You can shop online or via your mobile phone with the app. It’s available in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish, and more.

However, one of the key differences between AliExpress and Amazon is that AliExpress focuses on connecting international buyers with Chinese suppliers. This allows AliExpress to offer significantly lower prices on many items since manufacturers can sell directly to consumers without going through middlemen.

How Does AliExpress Work?

AliExpress Home Page

For the most part, using AliExpress is similar to using any other ecommerce platform. Buyers can browse through the site’s millions of listings and add items to their cart just like they would on Amazon or Etsy. However, things get different when it comes to payments and shipping.

Unlike Amazon or Etsy, which work with domestic suppliers who can ship items quickly and cheaply, most sellers on AliExpress are based in China. This means shipping times are generally much longer (think 2-4 weeks instead of 2-4 days), and shipping costs are often higher. For this reason, it’s essential to be very clear about shipping times and prices before placing an order on AliExpress.

Although it’s based in China, AliExpress ships to nearly 200 countries worldwide, and many products ship for free.

In terms of payments, buyers on AliExpress can choose between several different options, including credit card, PayPal, Western Union, and wire transfer. It’s also possible to use AliPay, another product from the Alibaba Group.

Unlike Amazon or Etsy, where buyers can feel confident that they will receive their item as described or get their money back if they don’t, buyers on AliExpress may have more difficulty getting a refund if they’re not happy with their purchase.

This is because communication can be difficult with Chinese suppliers and because many of the items on AliExpress are shipped directly from China (meaning you would have to pay for return shipping). Because of this, we only recommend using AliExpress if you’re comfortable with the risks involved.

That said, AliExpress does have a Buyer Protection Program designed to help you get your money back if something goes awry.

Alibaba vs. AliExpress

Alibaba Group owns both websites, but they serve different purposes. Alibaba is a business-to-business platform that connects suppliers with buyers. This is the perfect place to find wholesale goods.

In contrast, AliExpress is a consumer-focused platform that offers retail prices on millions of products. So, if you’re looking for great deals on individual items, AliExpress is the way to go.

For a more detailed comparison between the platforms, read our guide: Alibaba vs. AliExpress.

Is AliExpress Safe?

AliExpress is a legitimate website and marketplace. Alibaba Group is a public organization on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), so you can rest assured that it’s a legitimate company with solid financial backing. It always has over 400 million+ global site visits a month.

When online shopping on any website, there’s always some risk involved. However, AliExpress is as safe as any other major marketplace like Amazon or eBay. Millions of people use AliExpress every day without incident, and most transactions go smoothly.

Of course, there are always going to be some bad actors who try to take advantage of buyers. Still, AliExpress has systems to protect users and resolve disputes quickly and efficiently.

To protect yourself as a buyer, only buy merchandise from sellers that offer a buyer protection symbol on their product listing. This is common for most items.

AliExpress Buyer Protection Listing

What is Buyer Protection?

AliExpress Buyer Protection

Buyer Protection is an AliExpress guarantee. You’ll get your money back if you receive your item within the guaranteed period or if the item you receive differs from what the seller described. 

Step One: Contact the Seller

Visit your order history and choose the item you wish to return. Discuss the problems with the seller, and see what solution the seller offers. Sometimes, they may provide a partial refund and a replacement product.

Step Two: Apply for a Refund

If you and the seller cannot agree on a resolution, raise your claim for a full refund by opening the dispute within 15 days of receiving the item.

Step Three: Get Your Refund within 15 Days

The majority of sellers will refund your money in 15 days. If, for any reason, your case still needs to be resolved at that point, you can reach out to AliExpress via the Order Detail Page to raise the dispute.

A Note About Free Returns

Some items have a “Free Return” label. If you purchase those, you can return the items within 15 calendar days of item receipt, without any justification, as long as the item is in the original packaging and in new condition. 

If you have a large order or an Overseas Territory Order, you must contact the seller ahead of time to ensure you’re eligible for the Free Returns service. 

Kinds of Items You Can Buy

AliExpress offers a wide range of products for sale. AliExpress is a great place to find deals on a wide variety of items. You can find everything from home goods to electronics, clothes and accessories, and beauty products. And because it’s a marketplace, you can often find items for much less than you would pay at a brick-and-mortar store.

You can buy nearly anything on AliExpress, so it’s often easier to list what you cannot buy. Things you cannot buy on AliExpress include digital media (ebooks, software, etc.) and weaponry. You won’t find movies, but you’ll find tons of movie posters. You can also find many unlicensed character items and memorabilia from those movies (read counterfeit products) from popular American brand names. (You know the media giant I’m talking about…)

AliExpress Unlicensed Products

Creating an Account as a Shopper

Creating an AliExpress is free. To get started, visit the AliExpress website. Click the Account button in the upper right of the site, then click Register.

Enter your email address and chosen password, then click Create account. Alternatively, you can create your account using your Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, VK, or OK accounts.

Once you’ve created your account, AliExpress asks for your name, gender, birthday, and nationality. You’ll also choose the shopping categories you’re most interested in, such as Automobiles & Motorcycles, Jewelry & Watches, Home, Pet & Appliances, and Bags & Shoes.

You’re also asked about your:

  • Marital status
  • Employment industry 
  • Salary
  • An estimate of how much you spend shopping online
  • Other marketplaces you shop with
  • Your children’s birthdays 

All the information is required except your children’s birthdays and the other shopping platforms you use.

After providing this information, your profile is complete, and you’re ready to start shopping. 

Use the search bar at the top of the site to search for products you want to buy. You can buy products by pressing the Buy Now button on the individual product page or clicking Add to Cart. Overall, the shopping experience is similar to any other online marketplace platform.

Dropshipping with AliExpress

Dropshipping is a business model where ecommerce businesses sell products without carrying inventory. When a store owner receives an order from a customer, they contact the supplier, who ships the products directly to the customer’s door.

How Dropshipping Works

Dropshipping is a great way to start an ecommerce business with little up-front investment, and AliExpress is one of the best platforms to drop ship from.

AliExpress is very easy to use. You can search for products by keyword or browse through the millions of products available on the site.

Plus, AliExpress offers very competitive prices on all of its products. This is because it’s a marketplace where suppliers from all over the world compete against each other to offer the lowest prices.

Once you’ve decided on the products you’ll drop ship, check the Trademark database to ensure you’re not violating any terms by reselling the products online.

Before starting dropshipping with AliExpress, you must set up your online store. You can use Shopify or WooCommerce to create your store.

There are many apps available to connect AliExpress directly to your store, so you can pull in a variety of products to start selling. You can edit product images and descriptions as necessary for search engine optimization and to keep your listings from looking like everyone else’s.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to choose your payment processor and shipping method. Shipping expenses can add up quickly, but passing those on to your customers every time may hinder your ecommerce store conversions.

Keep this in mind, as offering the cheapest shipping option may slow product delivery. You need to strike a balance between shipping speed and price.

Once you’ve figured out your payment methods and logistics, start driving traffic to your website with Facebook Ads, Google AdWords, and other online marketing strategies.

How To Use AliExpress For Business

There are many quality products on AliExpress if you know where to look. Because there are so many sellers, it’s important to go beyond who offers the best price to get the best shopping experience. 

Always Buy from Established Sellers

Established sellers are known for their good track record on AliExpress. When you’re shopping, look for a symbol like this:

AliExpress Top Seller Badge

This lets you know the shop is established and has a good reputation. Ideally, you should only conduct business with sellers with at least a 4.5-star feedback rating. 

Check their delivery times and payment methods. You can check out with PayPal or Google Pay to protect your debit card.

Avoid working with sellers that haven’t shipped at least 100 items or have low product reviews. That’s not to say they’ll scam you – it just means they don’t have the trust signals you need.

Pay Close Attention to Item Description and Details

Some items will have more detailed descriptions than others. If you’re looking at clothing, you want to be sure it fits. That’s where the item description and details can help you. 

For instance, in the image below, you can see that the item:

  • Fits true to size
  • Is available in multiple colors and sizes
  • Is a polyester short sleeve shirt 
  • Ships directly from China
AliExpress Product Details

Look at Seller Guarantees

Individual sellers offer their own guarantees. By understanding exactly what those guarantees are before you buy, you can rest assured you’re getting the product you expect. 

AliExpress Buyer Protection Gaurantee

Talk with the Seller Before Buying

If you’re unsure about something before making a purchase, or if you’re interested in making bulk purchases send a message to the seller before placing an order. You may be able to negotiate a lower unit price if you purchase a certain quantity or get a sample to check product quality first.

This is especially important if you’re selling Aliexpress products n your ecommerce site. You don’t want your customers to be upset by poor-quality items since this will damage your brand.

Beware of Crazy Low Prices

Generally, most of what you find on AliExpress will be cheaper than on a U.S.-based website. But, if something seems too cheap to be true (i.e., popular branded items like Nike and Gucci), consider that you may be dealing with counterfeit items. 

That’s not to say you can’t find authentic products there. You just need to do your research. Read the reviews from other shoppers and pay attention to seller ratings. If there’s a distinct lack of positive feedback, you’re likely dealing with one of the unscrupulous sellers on the platform.

Remember Free Shipping Takes a Long Time

AliExpress usually offers free shipping via National Post, which can take weeks, sometimes even months, to arrive. With AliExpress standard shipping, there’s also an increased risk of items breaking in transit and never reaching their final destination. That free shipping doesn’t have a tracking number, so you can’t see where the package is on its way to you. Getting held up in customs can slow down delivery even further.

There’s nothing wrong with using free shipping options for low-cost items or things you’re in no hurry to receive. But, if you’re investing in a rather expensive item, such as consumer electronics, it’s best to pay for AliExpress premium shipping. Always ask the seller if they offer shipping insurance, and opt for that whenever possible.

Never Open a Dispute Until You Receive the Item

You only have one chance to open a dispute with AliExpress. If you open the dispute before the delivery window has closed and find yourself with unsatisfactory products, you won’t be able to do anything about it.

If you still haven’t received the physical products after the maximum delivery time has expired, reach out to the supplier.

Where Can You Sell From AliExpress

Unfortunately, businesses in the United States cannot sign up to sell on AliExpress. At the time of this writing, it is only available to businesses in the following areas:

  • China
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Turkey
  • France
  • Brazil

If you are based in any other country, you cannot legally register as a seller on AliExpress.

If your business operates in one of these countries, you can register for a seller’s account, which has a separate login process from a consumer account.

After you create your account and provide information about your business, AliExpress will take a couple of days to verify everything before approving your account. 

Once your AliExpress Seller account is approved, you can create your shop. It’s as easy as choosing your template and shipping methods. It’s up to you to determine if you want to offer faster shipping options and rates or if you want to stick to the basics.


Yes, it’s completely safe to purchase items from AliExpress. Most payments are made under the buyer protection service to keep you from spending money on products that aren’t what you expect. 

There are, however, a few expectations to this rule, so make sure you see the Buyer Protection symbol as you shop, and you’ll be fine.

No, AliExpress is not the same as Amazon. Though they are both online marketplaces, AliExpress is based in China, and Amazon is based in the United States. They are completely separate companies. 

Most merchants on AliExpress are based in China. They also source products from Chinese manufacturers. Compared to products sourced in America, AliExpress prices are much lower, so sellers can afford to pass the savings to shoppers like you while maintaining decent profit margins with a markup.

Is AliExpress Right for Your Ecommerce Business?

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to using AliExpress for your ecommerce business. On the plus side, prices on AliExpress are often much lower than what you’ll find elsewhere since you’re buying directly from Chinese manufacturers.

However, the downside is that shipping times are often much longer, and communication can be difficult since most sellers are based in China, and there are scammers out there.

AliExpress isn’t right for all small businesses – but it can be a good starting point for dropshipping businesses. 

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