International shoppers looking to source from China need to know that Taobao and AliExpress are two very different beasts.
To put it in a nutshell: the target market of Taobao.com is the retail consumer from China; AliExpress’s focus is on invidual or small business buyers from abroad, for whom it is a middleman sourcing goods directly from wholesalers or manufacturers.
PROs of Taobao shopping for international buyers:
Taobao is the preferred consumer shopper’s platform.
The broad product range and individual items are geared towards people like you. There is a reliable consistency in the posting of Seller Reviews for each and every item. Bloggers and other websites frequently link to Taobao.com, which has a reputation as a destination of choice.
Taobao agents are available to offer great customer service.
Taobao agent sites fight to find and keep their customers. A variety of agents work to ensure that the customer is well served and that Buyer Protection functions smoothly. Agents offer chat, message and phone communication directly to their representative.
Taobao agents place orders with individual retailers and consulidate orders into one shipment, keeping shipping costs reasonable and expediting customs clearance.
CONs of Taobao shopping for international buyers
Up to 10% in service fees when you use an agent
Taobao agents make their money from extra fees charged for placing orders, checking products, taking photos for the customer, warehousing, handling and packing.
The Taobao.com website is in the Chinese language
If you’ve decided not to use an agent, you’ll have language difficulties with Taobao sites if you don’t read Chinese. It’s no fun shopping if you don’t understand what you’re buying!
Returns pulicy is limited
Taobao guarantees that all products shipped domestically can be returned, as long as they are unused and in perfect condition. International customers come up short on this one.
PROs of shopping AliExpress for international buyers:
Free shipping on many items
If the Aliexpress website doesn’t automatically offer free shipping, the seller’s shipping method often will.
Website available in 16 language/country versions
The majority of the language versions reflect researched market preferences, so both layout and product offerings are “tailor-made” for countries or regions.
CONs of shopping AliExpress for international buyers:
Buyer Protection Plan is difficult to maneuver.
Initial disputes regarding delayed delivery, or disappointing/faulty product, is up to the consumer and seller to sort out. AliExpress steps in as mediator to an escalated dispute only upon request when a buyer is dissatisfied with a seller’s proposed sulution.
There are thousands and thousands of factories to manufacture a lot of things in China, Due to the language barrier, Most of them are unable to sell on Aliexpress, but all of them can sell on Taobao which makes many items on taobao have a lower price.
Separate sellers, separate invoices
There is no consulidation of orders in terms of payment or shipping, resulting in lots of sometimes very confusing paperwork.
Shopping at Taobao or AliExpress will have some inherent disadvantages due to the nature of overseas shopping.
For example, returns/exchanges are expensive for the buyer. It’s a long, slow and costly trip back to China.
But the advantages of Taobao or AliExpress shopping can certainly outweigh any cons. Think: unique items, low prices and a mind-numbing huge selection.
The platform that YOU choose to use will depend on your situation. If you’re a consumer looking for a transparent, risk-free experience, Taobao is the way to go. For businesses that rely on low wholesale prices to maintain their margin, or for adventurous bargain-hunting individuals, try AliExpress.