Alibaba vs AliExpress: Differences and Which One is Better?

Ecommerce merchants must understand the difference between Alibaba and AliExpress.

Alibaba and AliExpress are two of the biggest names in ecommerce, with 779 million active buyers across both sites in the fourth quarter of 2020. Ecommerce on AliExpress is especially popular in Singapore; the company has one of the top 10 mobile shopping apps in the country. For this reason, in Singapore and the rest of Asia, these two platforms rival global names like Amazon and Etsy.

What’s the difference between Alibaba and AliExpress?

The main difference between Alibaba and AliExpress is that each site was created for different types of customers. Alibaba is designed explicitly for B2B transactions. Conversely, AliExpress was created to serve individual customers.

Both companies are owned by the Alibaba Group, headquartered in Hangzhou, China but are designed for different purposes. Alibaba is a popular B2B ecommerce platform that connects businesses across the world with suppliers and manufacturers in China. Conversely, AliExpress primarily deals with B2C transactions, so some retailers prefer not to use the platform. However, its valuable integrations mean that it can be useful for new merchants who want to start businesses with AliExpress dropshipping.

Every merchant has different business requirements, and for this reason, the two platforms will suit different online retailers. To help you out, this guide will discuss the differences between Alibaba and AliExpress, look at AliExpress and Alibaba dropshipping for Shopify, and discuss integration options.

To understand the difference between Alibaba and AliExpress, you have to know how each site operates.

1. Customer Base

Alibaba is built for B2B transactions. On the other hand, AliExpress was created to serve individual customers. However, many small businesses—especially dropshippers—use AliExpress, too.

2. Customization

Alibaba is the better choice for online retailers who want to purchase custom or private label products. Because you’re always purchasing directly from manufacturers and wholesalers, you can easily request modifications—like putting your brand name or logo on products—at low prices. On the other hand, because it’s designed for consumers, AliExpress generally only offers pre-made products which can’t be customized.

3. Pricing

Because Alibaba was created for B2B sales, most suppliers on the site offer wholesale pricing; you may be asked to prove you are a business to access these rates. Additionally, sellers often have minimum order requirements—the lowest is around 50 pieces.

For new online retailers or small ecommerce businesses, though, AliExpress may be more useful for sourcing and testing products. Though prices are higher than those on Alibaba, sellers on the platform don’t enforce minimum order requirements.

4. Shipping

Another critical difference between Alibaba and AliExpress is the platforms’ shipping methods. The former normally offers shipping with couriers or freight; the latter often offers shipping with couriers, as well as dropshipping.

Suppliers on Alibaba may use couriers—like ePacket, DHL, UPS, or FedEx—to ship small orders. But, to keep costs low, suppliers often choose ocean freight for bulk orders. If your products are going from China to Singapore by courier, they will usually arrive within two days; ocean freight can take up to 10 days. Be aware that Alibaba suppliers don’t usually offer dropshipping.

Because it’s a regular ecommerce site, AliExpress suppliers offer shipping by courier. But many retailers also provide dropshipping, which means the platform is great for sourcing products for your AliExpress dropshipping store.

5. Ease of Use

Because it's designed for B2B transactions, Alibaba isn't exactly intuitive. If you have experience with wholesale buying, then you should be fine. New merchants may find the Alibaba-Shopify integration tricky and might not know how to ask the right questions for what they want. The interface can also be confusing, so you may need to play with the platform to learn how to navigate different functions like payments and imports.

Because AliExpress caters to consumers, its interface is much more user-friendly—it works like any other big ecommerce platform. Customers simply search for what they want, add it to their basket, and check out. It’s far easier to use because everything is done automatically, without the need for them to speak to the supplier. For retailers, ecommerce with AliExpress is easy because of the many direct integrations it offers. AliExpress shipping to Singapore is also straightforward to organize, making it a popular platform for Singapore-based merchants and customers.

6. Customer Service

You’ll be dealing directly with suppliers on Alibaba. That’s why you should look for suppliers with good customer service—check the ratings and reviews for this. On a larger scale, the Alibaba ecommerce platform offers customer service through help centers, forums, and live chat. They also have good processes for formal complaints and disputes. AliExpress mainly offers support through live chat, but it also allows buyers to file disputes and request refunds directly on the website, without dealing directly with sellers.

AliExpress and Alibaba ecommerce platform integration

Integrating Alibaba and Aliexpess with an online store

Both Alibaba and AliExpress offer integrations with numerous ecommerce platforms, which can be very useful to online retailers. The Alibaba ecommerce integration is available for Shopify Plus merchants, as well as those on other ecommerce hosting platforms. To set up your Alibaba-Shopify integration, you can use the Alibaba API and sync products, orders, and payments.

You can also get apps from the Shopify app store that will allow you to integrate products from Alibaba into your store. For ecommerce retailers, AliExpress offers integrations through specific apps—the Shopify app store has many of these. For example, if you’re a dropshipper, then apps like Oberlo are useful for sourcing products with direct AliExpress shipping to Singapore.

How to Choose Between Alibaba and AliExpress?

If you’re trying to decide between using AliExpress and the Alibaba ecommerce platform, here’s what you should consider:

  • Pricing: Alibaba will suit retailers who need wholesale pricing and will place bulk orders; AliExpress is better for new retailers who may want small orders and don’t mind paying retail prices.
  • Wholesale experience: If you have a lot of wholesale experience, you’ll be able to use Alibaba quite easily; if not, AliExpress may be easier to use.
  • Your retail journey: New merchants may find that AliExpress gives them better options for starting a new business; established retailers may prefer Alibaba’s B2B offerings.
  • Dropshipping: If you’re a dropshipper, AliExpress may work better for your business because the Alibaba ecommerce platform doesn’t usually offer dropshipping services.
  • Customization: If you want custom products for your brand, you'll need to use Alibaba because AliExpress doesn't usually offer customization on products.
  • Programming experience: Because it uses an API, you’ll likely need more programming experience for an Alibaba-Shopify integration. But, because it usually uses apps, AliExpress dropshipping for Shopify is easier to integrate.

FAQs about Alibaba vs AliExpress

Alibaba vs AliExpress: Which is Cheaper?

Individual product prices are usually cheaper on Alibaba because you can negotiate wholesale prices and buy in bulk from manufacturers. But, new ecommerce retailers may find AliExpress is cheaper overall; although you’ll be paying retail prices, you only have to buy a few items at a time.

Are Aliexpress and Alibaba reliable?

In a word—yes. For the most part, both platforms have reliable sellers. But, of course, as with any ecommerce site, there are occasional frauds and scams. That’s why you should always thoroughly research the seller and read reviews and ratings before you make a purchase. Both sites also offer services to guide and support buyers so that you’re less likely to encounter serious issues.

What is Alibaba Wholesale?

This is an entirely separate ecommerce platform from Alibaba and AliExpress, though it’s also owned by the Alibaba Group. Like Alibaba, Alibaba Wholesale offers wholesale products and bulk buying—but the minimum order requirements on the latter are usually much less. Because of this, your price-per product may be higher than on Alibaba, though it will still be less than on AliExpress.

What is Alibaba Trade Assurance?

This is Alibaba’s proprietary buyer protection program. It helps build trust for buyers because it ensures that they can ask for a refund for delayed orders or if the products or service don’t abide by the order agreement.

How to choose between AliExpress and Alibaba for ecommerce

If you plan to use an Alibaba Group platform for your ecommerce store, you’ll need to weigh up the difference between Alibaba and AliExpress. Both offer significant advantages to retailers, but the choice comes down to your business’s particular needs. In general, though, Alibaba will be better for experienced retailers, bigger businesses, and brands that want custom products; AliExpress is better suited to new merchants, smaller businesses, and dropshippers.

Whichever platform you choose, you’ll be able to integrate it with your Shopify store. This will allow you to sync products and orders easily, oversee shipping—including AliExpress dropshipping with Shopify—and use our full suite of marketing tools to drive conversions.

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