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Alibaba.com vs AliExpress: what are the differences

Alibaba.com and AliExpress are two platforms that have largely contributed to the success of thousands of eCommerce businesses. These two platforms are sister companies operated by the same owner Alibaba Group that plays a leading role in the online retail world.

However, Alibaba.com and AliExpress offer unique buying and selling experiences with different features for different types of buyers and sellers.

In this post, we’re going to compare Alibaba.com and AliExpress to give buyers and sellers a better idea of which platform is right for their needs. We will cover key features of each platform, typical buyers, typical sellers, associated costs, and additional professional services.

To wrap things up, we will provide a side-by-side comparison of these two powerful platforms and discuss which is the best option for B2B buyers and sellers.

Table of Contents

Alibaba Group: an overview

Alibaba.com and AliExpress are both parts of the Alibaba Group. Alibaba Group was founded by Jack Ma in Hangzhou, China in 1999 with the mission “To make it easy to do business anywhere.”

The different subsidiaries of this group have been at the forefront of the emergence and growth of eCommerce and technological development. In addition to Alibaba.com and AliExpress, Alibaba Group owns and operates Taobao, Tmall, Lazada Group, Alibaba Cloud, Alipay, and Alibaba Pictures Group.

One notable mention of Alibaba Group is that portion of the group’s annual revenue is donated to environmental conservation.

What is Alibaba.com?

Alibaba.com was founded in 1999 as Alibaba Group’s first business unit, and it has become a driving force in the world of cross-border B2B eCommerce. It is one of the world’s largest business-to-business wholesale eCommerce platforms that connects over 150,000 suppliers to over 10 million buyers from over 190 countries and regions.

Business buyers come to Alibaba.com intending to source parts to produce the final goods, buy finished products to resell or to find items needed to operate their business. These buyers send 300,000 inquiries to Alibaba.com sellers each day.

Alibaba.com sellers have a digital storefront, also called a “mini-site”, visible to buyers to showcase products and OEM/ODM production capabilities. Sellers can use the built-in marketing and CRM tools to reach and retain customers. They can interact with customers on their own terms and own the customer relationships and contact information.

The platform also provides a toolbox full of resources to facilitate buyer-seller communication and offers logistics solutions and payment protection to help them navigate the world of B2B eCommerce with ease.

Key features of Alibaba.com

Alibaba.com was built with both buyers and sellers in mind. Here are a few features that the platform has to support traders on both sides of the transaction:

  • Tools for lead generation
  • CRM tools
  • Request for Quotation (RFQ) marketplace
  • Easy-to-navigate workbench
  • Market and industry analytics tools
  • Auto-translation to 18+ languages
  • Comprehensive order management
  • API integration for advanced customizations

Typical sellers

There are several types of sellers on Alibaba.com: manufacturers, wholesalers, exporters, trading companies and agents, etc. The common ground between all Alibaba.com suppliers is that they sell to other businesses.

Typical buyers

Alibaba.com is a B2B platform, which means that the typical buyers are other businesses. Some types of buyers include B2C retailers, sourcing agents, wholesale distributors, manufacturers, and even other B2B sellers.

Professional services

Alibaba.com offers an array of professional services, including:

  • Alibaba.com Freight international logistics services
  • On-boarding support and seller success services
  • Trade Assurance – a free order protection services
  • Product inspection and monitoring services>

These services are designed to enhance the sellers’ and buyers’ experience and help them to find success in the B2B marketplace.

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is one of the top cross-border online B2C eCommerce marketplaces in the world. This platform was created as an offshoot of Alibaba.com back in 2010 as a place for businesses to sell directly to consumers.

Different from Alibaba.com that we talked about earlier, AliExpress, as a retail division of Alibaba Group, is open to individual consumers from all over the world who buy products “as is” without a minimum order quantity.

This platform works just like other generalist B2C platforms and is often compared to Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. Buyers come to AliExpress to look for quality goods at attractively low price, and it has become a perfect place for dropshipping due to its wide selection of goods and competitive prices, secure buyer protection, and ability to purchase in a very small amount. Independent sellers can register and sell products directly to hundreds of millions of buyers worldwide.

Key features

AliExpress offers many wonderful features. Some of these resources include:

  • Automatic translation to 18 languages for a localized user experience
  • Conversion to currencies from 51 countries
  • Support for 38 local payment channels for secure payment and transaction
  • Customized storefronts for sellers
  • Buyer protection
  • AliExpress University that offers learning resources for new sellers

Typical sellers

Sellers on AliExpress are typically SMB that sell products to consumers. Different from Alibaba.com, sellers on AliExpress are probably not manufacturers themselves, but third-party individuals that serve as middlemen to buy the products from factories in large volume and sell them in small volume on AliExpress, but buyers still get a competitive price for the goods.

Popular types of sellers on AliExpress include clothing, electronics, beauty, tools, home improvement, and appliance retailers.

Typical buyers

AliExpress positions itself as a B2C platform, so the typical buyers are consumers. AliExpress currently has over 150 million buyers in 220 countries and territories worldwide.

Because the prices on AliExpress are so competitive that are close to wholesale prices and the platform offers a huge selection of nearly everything, a large number of buyers on AliExpress are actually resellers looking for dropshipping. Dropshipping on AliExpress is ideal for those who want to start an online eCommerce business without significant capital investment and who don’t want to worry about inventory or delivery.

Professional services

AliExpress does offer several professional services for both buyers and sellers:

AliExpress Shipping

It is the one-stop shipping method that is officially provided by AliExpress and Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Network. As an end-to-end cross-border logistics service, it contains the first-mile pickup service, consolidation service, international line-haul service, customs clearance service, and last-mile delivery service.

The platform also provides different shipping options to choose from, such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, EMS, e-Packet, etc. Shipping costs will vary depending on where you are located and the delivery speed. And for most products, free shipping by AliExpress Shipping and Cainiao Network is offered. It usually takes as short as 1 week to as long as 2 months.

Buyer Protection

AliExpress offers a buyer protection policy that guarantees secure transactions and protects buyers from scammers. It promises your money back if the item you received is not as described, or if your item is not delivered within the Buyer Protection period.

Whenever there is a dispute, the buyer can first contact the seller for an informal resolution. If an agreement cannot be reached, buyers can simply raise a claim by filing a ticket to AliExpress. AliExpress will act as a mediator to make sure you will get a refund in 15 days.

Key differences between Alibaba.com and AliExpress

As you can see, Alibaba.com and AliExpress are very similar but serve two different purposes. The main difference has to do with the nature of the transactions that each platform is suited for.Alibaba.com is a B2B platform that carries out transactions between businesses. AliExpress is a B2C platform that facilitates transactions between businesses and consumers.

Many buyers are attracted immediately to Alibaba.com whether they are businesses or not simply because of the attractively low pricing of products on the site. However, Alibaba.com has minimum order quantities in place, meaning buyers must buy in bulk to access the wholesale rates.

AliExpress, on the other hand, still has relatively low prices but does not have minimum order quantities.

When it comes to commission and take rates, sellers on Alibaba.com pay 0% on most transactions. AliExpress sellers pay up to 8%.

Although these platforms are different, neither is better or worse. Which you should use totally depends on your goals as either a buyer or a seller. Consumers are better off shopping on AliExpress, and businesses are better off sourcing products or materials on Alibaba.com.

How to use Alibaba.com

Here is a quick rundown of what you can expect as either a buyer or a seller on Alibaba.com.

How to buy from Alibaba.com

Step 1: Register a free buyer account on Alibaba.com to get started.

Fill out as much information as you can in the account settings because suppliers are more willing to work with serious buyers and established businesses.

Step 2: Find products and sellers.

On Alibaba.com, business buyers can work with sellers to create customized products or find products that already exist and are “Ready to Ship”, which means that those products can leave the facility within 15 days of when your place an order. Buyers can find products and sellers in different ways:

1. Begin your search in the search bar. Filter the results by different criteria, including minimum order quantity, price, supplier’s country, supplier certifications, and more.

2. Go to pavilions. Check out themed pavilions from top-ranking products to country-specific exports.

3. Send a Request for Quotation (RFQ). Post a request for a quote in the RFQ market and specify what you are looking for, and sellers will reach out to you with offers.

You can check out a seller’s profile, credentials, and other information shown on the seller’s mini-site to assess whether they are best for your sourcing needs. Those badges on a seller’s profile help you know what steps they took to prove themselves as a trusted partner:

  • Gold supplier:   Sellers that are paid members and that have been verified as businesses with commercial or industrial capabilities.
  • Verified supplier:   Sellers whose company profile, management system, production capabilities, product, and process controls have been assessed, certified, and/or inspected by third party institutions.
  • Trade Assurance supplier:  Sellers who can accept payment through Alibaba.com, enabling Alibaba.com payment and order protection.

Step 3: Order right away or contact suppliers for more information.

If you find existing products that meet your needs and are ready to purchase them, you can order right away by click “Start Order” from the product detail page and then proceed to quick and easy checkout.

B2B buying process usually involves more back-and-forth and is thus much lengthier than B2C buying. Therefore, oftentimes, business buyers like you will be more cautious assessing suppliers and want to contact suppliers to negotiate prices, ask for customizations in your orders, and learn more about their businesses.

Buyers on Alibaba.com can reach out to suppliers directly by clicking “Contact Supplier” and sending an inquiry.

Step 4: Place an order and receive your goods.

Alibaba.com offers multiple secure online payment methods including online bank payment (e-Checking), credit cards, telegraphic transfer (T/T), and provides financing options and payment terms for qualified buyers in selected countries and regions.

To ensure the products meet your specifications, you can always request a sample before placing a full order to avoid risks. Alibaba.com also has other order protection measures for buyers such as the production monitoring and inspection services that will send a local team to a seller’s facility and inspect the products before shipment.

When it comes to cross-border shipping and logistics, buyers can use Alibaba.com Freight for a reliable and transparent experience. It provides ocean freight, air freight, and air express & air parcels from mainly China to worldwide.

How to sell on Alibaba.com

Step 1: Create a seller account on Alibaba.com and activate your seller membership.

As a new seller, the first step you need to take is to register a free seller account on Alibaba.com. The seller registration is completely free and you can get a feel for how the platform works before committing to a paid membership, also known as the Gold Supplier membership.

Alibaba.com offers multiple Gold Supplier membership packages depending on the location of where your business operates. Subscription to paid membership will unlock more advanced features and support that you will need to succeed.

Unlike some other online selling platforms, Alibaba.com does NOT charge sellers a commission rate for each item sold, therefore, sellers can bring home a larger percentage of their earnings.

To activate the paid membership, sellers also need to go through a Business Verification process which establishes the validity of your company’s status and authorized contact person.

Step 2: Complete seller profile, post products, and launch your mini-site.

To make sure buyers can find you and trust you well enough to place an order or send an inquiry, it is essential for sellers to complete their profile, post all products they have in their catalogs and optimize for visibility, and build and decorate mini-site to create a digital storefront showcasing your capabilities and brand identity.

A dedicated account manager will guide you throughout the process and you can also check out the abundant educational resources in the online seller learning center.

Step 3: Reply to inquiries and get orders.

Sellers will start to receive inquiries from buyers, after listing products. Replying to inquiries in a quick and professional manner is critical to converting inquiries into sales. Sellers can easily manage all the communication in the My Alibaba workbench or from the AliSupplier mobile app.

At the same time, Alibaba.com is dedicated to ensuring a positive end-to-end experience for your buyers with Trade Assurance – the order protection and secure payments service of Alibaba.com. This service makes it easier for buyers to trust working with sellers around the world, which makes it easier for you to close the sale. This also helps you streamline your process with all messages, orders, and payments in one place.

How to use AliExpress

AliExpress is very user-friendly, so getting started on the platform as either a buyer or seller is pretty easy.

Here is a brief walkthrough for users on either end of the transaction.

How to buy from AliExpress

Buying on AliExpress is just like buying on any other online storefront.

First, go to AliExpress, click on the “Join” button, and create an account to shop away! You can also opt to sign in with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Apple, and other social platforms.

From there, you can browse products by category or search for something in particular. Results can be filtered by price, ratings, shipping county, shipping cost, and returnability. You can also sort by price, newest listings, and best match. If you have specific items that you want to look for, just type it in the search and it will show you all the relative goods.

We highly recommend you paying attention to the followings to assess sellers and products:

  • Ratings, the number of customer reviews, and the number of orders shipped. Typically, you can look for products that have a rating above 4.0, and more than 100 orders shipped. You can also check the real pictures uploaded by paid buyers to the customer reviews.
  • Detailed seller ratings and feedback history that is shown on the seller’s minisite page. On the “Feedback” tab on a seller’s minisite page, you get a breakdown of the seller’s feedback history and its “Positive Feedback” percentage.
  • Free shipping and free return. Check out if free shipping and free return is offered.

Simply add items to the cart and continue browsing until you are ready to place the order. Once you finish shopping, you can view all the items you intend to buy and either pay them in total or select specific items to pay for. Fill out all necessary checkout information and select payment methods to complete your transaction. AliExpress offers a variety of payment methods, including credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, American Express, etc.), PayPal, Wire Transfer, West Union, etc.

How to sell on AliExpress

Step 1: Check your eligibility.

AliExpress allows sellers who have a registered company to open an online shop on the website to reach millions of buyers all over the world. While Alibaba.com allows sellers from nearly all countries in the world to register and sell on the platform, AliExpress only supports businesses whose tax location is one of the following: Mainland China, Russia, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France.

Step 2: Signing up to sell on AliExpress is absolutely free.

You can create an account and apply with the following information:

  1. Value-Added Tax (VAT) Number
  2. Company operating License
  3. ID number of the company’s legal representative
  4. Contact information of the company and the legal representative

Once you submit this information, AliExpress will respond within 2 business days to let you know if you’re clear to start selling.

While creating a seller account on AliExpress is completely free, the seller has to pay the marketplace a commission of between 5% and 8% only for the items sold, depending on the product category. Other than that, there is no minimum or fixed overheads or arrangement fee.

Step 2: Upload products and customize your storefront.

After you’ve been verified and your seller account being activated, it is time to upload your products with prices and descriptions.

Sellers can use the “Product Information Template” and “Price Inventory Template” provided by the platform to bulk update products using the Excel spreadsheets and manage stock and prices. “AliExpress Assistant” is another tool that can sync with Magento 1, Magento 2, and Prestashop store and allows sellers to upload commodities in batches.

If you are selling branded products on the platform, you can also apply to become an official store or authorized sellers of the brand and enjoy more exposure and privileges in the platform and increase your trustworthiness to the buyers. You can also apply and register a new own brand that’s not already in the AliExpress trademark database.

Decorating and customizing your store is important to build up your brand image and provide customers with additional service and promotional information for your shop.

Step 3: Ship products and receive payment.

As a seller, you can use your own logistics solution to ship customer orders by setting up your own shipping template, including free shipping and shipping cost by weights and other dimensions. You can also use the door-to-door logistics solutions provided by AliExpress’s logistics partners and Cainiao Network.

The sales payment will be paid within a maximum of 15 days after the buyer confirms the delivery or after the expiration date. You can check your balance in your My AliExpress workbench. To withdraw money from your AliExpress balance, you need to associate your bank account.

Why choose Alibaba.com?

As a B2B seller or manufacturer, Alibaba.com is the way to go. It is equipped with all of the tools you need to successfully grow your business online.

Our platform is well-suited for sellers with different goals, including entering the international market, testing a product in the market, expanding your wholesale business, and more.

Thanks to our professional features and easy-to-navigate platform, selling on Alibaba.com is accessible to businesses both small and large.

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