AliExpress 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 open a dropshipping store at no cost.
While that’s partially true, not everything about AliExpress is amazing. It has pros and cons.
In this post, we’re going to tell you exactly how to dropship on AliExpress, step by step. 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. It’s 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.
Instead of buying directly from the manufacturer, 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.
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 (which you can set up with SaleHoo Stores). 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.
Choosing a niche and selling online should be a relatively simple process and can be broken down into three easy steps. However, implementing them in real life can be a lot of work.
The easiest way to start selling products is to find a hot market. What are people interested in right now? What trends are big? What is the hot item at the moment?
You need to find a market where people are spending money and which they are passionate about.
Next, you need to find out what your customers are having problems with. Take advantage of social media to reach out and ask your customers what they’re having trouble with, then think of how you can help them using products from AliExpress.
Try it right now. Think of an issue you’re having in your life.
Do you need a swimsuit for the upcoming summer season? Or are struggling to find the perfect gift for your significant other?
These are all real struggles that you and many other people go through every single day. If you listen to people, they will tell you what they need, even indirectly.
Be open to their struggles, what they want to achieve. You need to be empathetic to their needs and work to understand them.
Finally, use your online store to offer your customers what they want.
It’s that simple.
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.
But what if you want to skip the hard steps and quickly find what’s working right now?
SaleHoo has a Market Research Lab, a dropshipping tool similar to search engines that displays AliExpress’s best sellers, along with Amazon’s and eBay’s best sellers, to show you the hottest products on the market.
You can also use it to see how often the dropshipped products are selling, and find the best suppliers for those products.
In 2017, there are many third-party applications that make it easy to import items on AliExpress into your store.
If you have a Shopify store, you can use Oberlo, which is extremely easy to use and set up. All it takes is a few clicks to import all information, specs, and pictures into your store.
If you are using BigCommerce, check out the AliExpress Dropshipping app, which has a free three-day trial and is just $10 a month after that.
A few ecommerce tips:
Once you have your dropshipping store using AliExpress up and running, orders should start coming in.
If you’re using Oberlo, processing orders is really easy. It just takes a few clicks to process, ship your order, and add tracking info. Make sure that you use ePacket shipping though, as for some AliExpress sellers it's not the default option.
The same goes for the BigCommerce AliExpress Dropshipping app, a few clicks and the orders are processed and paid for, with tracking information added later.
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 you have to update the customer’s order information, adding the tracking info and sending them a receipt email with this info.
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.
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!
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 enquiries, 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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