Alibaba Vs Aliexpress 2020 | Which is the better option for dropshipping?

by Tim Howard

Looking for reliable suppliers for your dropshipping business? 

Alibaba and Aliexpress are two massive eCommerce stores that many dropshippers are leaning towards for today. 

Finding a reliable supplier can be a tedious task and settling for a bad one can cost you the closure of your dropshipping business. 

I’ve been running a dropshipping myself for about 10 years now. Initially, my dropshipping business took a bad hit all because I had a couple of unreliable suppliers. 

Bad suppliers can give you cheap knockoffs of branded products, defect pieces, or high shipping costs. All this ultimately means unhappy customers and that’s definitely bad for business! 

I had to pretty much start my business from the gutters again but this time I turned towards AliExpress. And later on to Alibaba (more on this later). Both Alibaba and Aliexpress platforms can help you find reliable suppliers and wholesalers. 

Even though owned by the same group, these platforms work differently – think of them as fraternal twins. 

Regardless, both platforms have different things to offer, and what you finally choose all depends on which one can support your dropshipping business. Let’s explore Alibaba Vs Aliexpress in detail and figure out which one is the best option for you!

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Alibaba Vs AliExpress

Both Alibaba and AliExpress are owned by the Alibaba Group, a Chinese holding company. The major difference between the two platforms is that Alibaba is designed on the B2B business model and the AliExpress platform is tuned for B2C transactions. 

On the Alibaba platform, you can order products in bulk directly from manufacturers at wholesale prices whereas AliExpress allows you to order single products or small batches of products at competitive retail prices. 

When to use AliExpress for Dropshipping?

If you’re just starting out your dropshipping business then AliExpress might be the better option for you. Even though the prices are slightly higher compared to Alibaba, you can order smaller quantities of products. The only issue you might face though is with long shopping time but the upside is that shipping costs almost next to nothing, sometimes even free!

When to use Alibaba for dropshipping?

Alibaba is the better option for you if you want to order products in large quantities at wholesale prices. In fact, more often than not, you’ll see that suppliers on Alibaba set a minimum order quantity of 500-600 pieces. So if you’re planning to buy products in large quantities and resell it at your brick and mortar store or online then Alibaba might be the better option for you. But also remember that to order products in large quantities, you’ll need to have a warehouse set up to receive and store these products in bulk. Of course, this wouldn’t be a big hurdle to cross for businesses that have already been established and have a good base of loyal customers. 

AlibabaAliExpress
Business modelB2BB2C
PricingWholesale prices Competitive retail prices, slightly higher than Alibaba’s wholesale prices
Min Order RequirementUsually 100 – 500 piecesNo min order requirement 
Dropshipping Most suppliers do not offer dropshippingSuppliers offer dropshipping 
White label products/Customization Available Not available 
Lead timeA few months, varies depending on the orderAbout 30 days 
Freight/Shipping costHigher air freight cost or shipping cost when shipping from overseasOffers free shipping
Quote Negotiation Final amount can be negotiatedPrices can’t be negotiated 

To make it simpler for you to choose between Alibaba and AliExpress, I’ve evaluated the two eCommerce platforms based on 6 parameters – Pricing, Minimum Order Requirement, Dropshipping features, Potential for custom products, Lead time, and Alibaba freight vs Aliexpress shipping time and costs. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Alibaba and AliExpress

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Alibaba Vs AliExpress: Features 

#1 Pricing 

  • Alibaba: Alibaba offers whole prices which comes much cheaper than retail prices. Businesses looking to resell products in store or online can benefit from wholesale prices as they can sell the products with a higher margin.profit. As a buyer, you can directly connect with the manufacturers through Alibaba. And since you can directly contact the manufacturer, there’s always room for negotiation – this is actually one of the biggest reasons why Alibaba is popular amongst dropshippers and other businesses. 
  • AliExpress: AliExpress is slightly more expensive than Alibaba but still much cheaper than most U.S. retailers. On AliExpress, you buy products from third-party sellers and resell them at your price. 

Here’s an example for you. In the screenshots below, you can clearly see the prices for the same product on the two platforms. Buying in bulk on Alibaba would mean paying a lesser price per product. 

On AliExpress, you’ll pay a slightly higher price but pay almost nothing for shipping. Also, you can buy just one product or a smaller quantity of the product. 

  • Unlike Alibaba, AliExpress is open directly to customers as well. Because of this you’ll notice that the both eCommerce websites are designed very differently. For example, in AliExpress you purchase products like how any customer would on regular eCommerce platforms like Amazon. But on Alibaba it’s slightly different. Once you add things to your cart and ‘start order’, The order isn’t immediately placed. Once you ‘submit order’, the final amount is up for negotiation. After a certain amount of back and forth with the manufacturer, the final amount is agreed upon. This is not the case with AliExpress. Because AliExpress also caters to regular online shoppers so you don’t need to negotiate with the manufacturers/sellers. 

So now you’re probably thinking that – this is it! Alibaba is the winner. Not so fast. Even though, Prices on Alibaba are lower because you’re ordering in bulk. Almost all sellers pose a minimum order requirement. This is not the case with AliExpress. You can order smaller quantities and pay zilch for shipping! 

#2 Minimum Order Requirement

  • Alibaba: Since Alibaba caters to B2B requirements, sellers and suppliers on Alibaba sell products in bulk. Which is also why the prices are lower and also up for negotiation. The minimum order requirement is set by the supplier and is usually set anywhere between 100 to 500 pieces. Though some suppliers also entertain lower minimum order requirements.  
  • AliExpress: Whereas with AliExpress, you won’t face such restrictions. Since the platform also welcomes regular online shoppers, you can purchase a single piece or even products in smaller batches. The prices are slightly higher than Alibaba but still cheaper than retail prices. More often than not, you’ll find the same suppliers on Alibaba and AliExpress. 
  • If your business is prepared to receive bulk orders then choosing Alibaba makes sense. This means that you’ll have to invest in a space for storage. If you receive orders in large numbers or regularly then this is a good option. But if you’ve just established your business or cater to a niche audience then opting AliExpress is better as you don’t have to worry about storage or maintaining an inventory. You simply place an order when somebody places an order on your site. 

#3 Dropshipping:    

  • Alibaba: Since Alibaba is designed to connect suppliers to sellers, it is not designed for dropshipping. You’ll rarely find suppliers offering dropshipping services and most of them will only sell in bulk. So you’ll have to take care of individual packaging of the product plus shipping to your customer once you receive your bulk order from your supplier on Alibaba. 
  • AliExpress: If you’re into dropshipping and dropshipping only then you’re better off with AliExpress. AliExpress also caters to dropshippers, so you’ll find loads of suppliers that offer drop shipping services. So all  you have to do is copy the pictures and information of the products from the suppliers page and upload it on your site with your selling price. As you receive an order, forward the information to the supplier and the rest is taken care of by the supplier. In fact, AliExpress has made it very simple for dropshipping businesses to function on the platform since the introduction of AliDropship WordPress plugin. This allows you to sell dropship products through AliExpress. Alidropship automates the process of uploading the images and descriptions of the products you choose. Also you don’t have to pay any fee to start dropshipping. This gives you more room to experiment with what products you want to sell and the prices you set. 

#4 Sourcing Custom Products:

  • Alibaba: If you’re involved in selling customized products, Alibaba is the better option. Seller and suppliers on Alibaba offer white label products. And many of them also offer customizations since you’re sourcing the products directly from the manufacturer. 
  • AliExpress: The chances of getting truly customized products of AliExpress are extremely low as the products available on AliExpress are almost always premade. And any further customization wouldn’t be cost-effective. 

#5 Lead Time:

  • Alibaba: The lead time on Alibaba can vary greatly as it depends on several factors including the product, order quantity, and customization, if any. Obviously, manufacturing bigger orders is going to take longer and the lead time might further extend if there are customizations involved. You can expect a minimum lead time of about a month after you’ve made the payment to the products and ready. Another thing to consider is that finding the right supplier will take time. Other than this finalizing a price and receiving samples before the order is finalised is going to take some time as well. Keeping all this mind, it might take a few months for you to actually receive the products. 
  • AliExpress: Products on AliExpress are already manufactured. There’s no negotiating of prices involved. And the products are usually shipped as soon as the order is placed. This obviously reduces the lead time. But since they’re shipped from overseas, the lead time can be expected to be about a month from the time the order is purchased. The upside here is that AliExpress offers free shipping! 

#6 Freight and Shipping 

  • Alibaba Freight: The Alibaba platform features a new marketplace called Alibaba Freight. If you’re a U.S retailer or business, Alibaba Freight allows you to book, compare pricing, track, and manage air and ocean shipping for your bulk and orders bought on wholesale. If you find suppliers on Alibaba that have stock in the U.S. of premade products you’re interested in, the shipping time here will then be lesser and cheaper as the supplier can send you products from their warehouse in the U.S. 
  • Aliexpress Shipping: On this platform, shipping is almost always free or at a very low cost. Shipping is free for U.S customers, thanks to ALiexpress’ service – ePacket. Once purchased, the products that are shipped from overseas can take about 2 weeks to a month to reach the customer. You and your customer, both, can track the order as well. Also since the quantity of products ordered on Aliexpress is much smaller compared to Alibaba, where you have to place bulk orders, logistics concerning shipping is cheaper and easier.  

Alibaba Vs AliExpress: Which one is easier to use?

Having used both platforms, I’d say that AliExpress as a platform is way easier to use than Alibaba. This is especially true if you’re not used to placing wholesale orders. Also, suppliers on Alibaba aren’t mandated to revert when you request for a quote. And you might find this process specially challenging when you’re not sure what information the supplier is looking for. So for beginner dropshippers, Alibaba can prove to be frustrating. 

However, that is not the case with AliExpress. The AliExpress platform is designed to be used like other common eCommerce platforms like Amazon with a shopping cart. It’s pretty straightforward as there’s no interacting with the supplier involved. This makes the whole process much faster on AliExpress. 

Which Platform Offers Better Customer Service?

Both Alibaba and AliExpress offer customer service. On AliExpress, you have the live chat option. Other than this, if you have complaints against a seller or want to request a refund, AliExpress offers dispute management services. However, when it comes to Alibaba, you’re directly dealing with the supplier and not the platform. So your experience on Alibaba will differ depending on your seller. Having said that, Alibaba also allows you to raise formal disputes and complaints through community forums and help centres.  

Alibaba Vs AliExpress: Which one to choose for dropshipping?

Both Alibaba and AliExpress have their benefits. Choose AliExpress for your dropshipping if you’re just starting out since initially your order quantities are going to be lesser. You’ll have to deal with a lesser lead time and not worry about storage. Other than this, findiverng suppliers on AliExpress is easier than Alibaba. 

Choose Alibaba for your business, if your business is already established and you want to take on bigger orders to maintain an inventory. Or if you plan to sell customized products, private label products then Alibaba should be your first choice. As long as you’re prepared to receive bulk orders, you can opt for Alibaba. But also remember that you’ll have to spend some time verifying products and sellers before you commit as some sellers on Alibaba can easily scam you. 

It’s clear that AliExpress is the better option for dropshipping compared to Alibaba. But when it comes to sourcing wholesale products at dirt cheap prices, Alibaba is your best bet! 

Is using both AliExpress and Alibaba a good idea?

I started my dropshipping business about 10 years ago with AliExpress. AliExpress is great to kickstart your dropshipping business with smaller orders since many suppliers on AliExpress offer dropshipping services. As your business grows, however, you’ll want to make use of other business opportunities as well. As you learn your customers patterns, you might want to keep products in stock by ordering a larger quantity. Or you might want to move to white label products or private labels. For both these business opportunities, you should turn to Alibaba. You can get customized products on Alibaba for cheap and also buy bulk order at wholesale prices that are much cheaper than AliExpress. This is also one of the reasons why I started out with AliExpress but later also started using Alibaba for sourcing my products. 

Another reason why I use both AliExpress and Alibaba is that with AliExpress I can order a smaller quantity of products to test it out and see if it works with the customers. AliExpress is great when you’re starting out and experimenting with new products to sell. Whereas, when you know a product is a hit and you have a constant flow of orders coming in for a particular product then source that product from Alibaba in bulk to get wholesale prices and set a higher profit margin.

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