6 Things to Know About AliExpress

International sourcing site lets merchants learn the ropes with less risk.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- Jan 11, 2011

In late summer, Alibaba.com acquired Auctiva and a new synergy began between two companies offering products and services vital to all eBay merchants. A new Sourcing tab on the Auctiva home page takes you to AliExpress, the wholesale corner of the giant Alibaba.com sourcing site. Here you can quickly and simply participate in the world's largest online marketplace, connecting manufacturers throughout the world with small to medium-sized merchants.

To have these two aspects of your operation so closely linked can be a tempting benefit. Not only can you manage your eBay business with Auctiva's tools, you can test new products without ever leaving the site!

You start by clicking on Auctiva's new Sourcing tab, one of the links across the top of Auctiva's pages when you're signed into your account. That's the easy part. But don't allow your eagerness to check this out cause you to overlook basic safety procedures and best practices. Integration of tasks is a wonderful thing, and you can potentially boost your opportunities and productivity. But, as in most things in life, nothing is either all one thing or another. Yes, Alibaba.com acquiring Auctiva makes for a great opportunity for you to explore international product sourcing, but finding international trading partners and bringing imported goods into the U.S. will not be quite as simple as clicking your mouse.

Here are six things you should keep in mind about international product sourcing.

1. AliExpress has a simple and familiar feel

International trade is intimidating at first, but the folks at AliExpress realize that. Remember that AliExpress is part of the world's largest online business-to-business marketplace, Alibaba.com. Alibaba.com has a long history of successfully linking manufacturers with retailers. When you find a potential product source through the site, you will most likely be working with a partner who is well-versed and experienced in shipping items all over the globe. That can be a comfort to someone who is just starting to test the idea of international sourcing.

Establishing an AliExpress account is free, and couldn't be easier. You can browse to your heart's content and spend as much time as you need learning your way around before committing to anything. The AliExpress interface is simple and familiar. You'll feel right at home while browsing the listings, which are filled with everything you'll need to shop. That includes loads of pictures, shipping information, seller feedback ratings and comments from past customers. The integration is very successful, and shopping on AliExpress will feel like you're browsing the stores in your own neighborhood.

The payoff of a successful partnership will be well worth the time and effort you spend now

2. You must vet and verify trading partners

AliExpress works very hard to create a safe and secure marketplace. Millions of people have completed successful and satisfying purchases on the site, and we've talked to many sellers who say the international sourcing giant actually made their businesses possible. But, once you're on AliExpress, you are dealing with an individual seller, and that always means you should test the waters carefully.

You shouldn't find language to be much of an issue. Sure, you'll find some fractured English in some of the listings, but the manufacturers on the site are generally experienced in dealing with international customers and many have fluent English-speakers on staff. That allows you to ask the questions you need to ask, and communicate with your prospective partners until you feel secure that you're entering into a good partnership.

Many sellers with whom we've spoken say they have never had a language problem and that their international trading partners are now considered essential friends and business associates. But that relationship is going to take time, so don't hesitate to vet as long as you need to, and start small while you verify you're in good hands. The payoff of having a long-lasting and successful partnership will be well worth the time and effort you spend now.

3. Buyer protection helps you take that first step

AliExpress includes payment through escrow. You can pay for your order with Visa or MasterCard, or you can stick with PayPal. Either way, your payment is held in an escrow account until you receive the product and verify that you are satisfied. Once you do, then the supplier gets paid. That takes a lot of the risk out of giving international product sourcing a try.

Just remember that if you aren't satisfied with your purchase, you are likely to be held accountable for all return shipping and delivery charges before your money will be refunded. Be sure you know what is likely to be lost and how much you are willing to risk. Of course, by making your first few purchases small, you can simply self-insure, eating the cost of whatever you might receive that is disappointing.

4. AliExpress is perfect for testing new products

If you are thinking of testing a new product or adding something additional to your product offerings, AliExpress can be a very good place to experiment. Buying in small quantities, becoming familiar with the many ins and outs of international trade, and at the same time testing the waters for new products to boost your profits, can make the education pay off. Just remind yourself to step slowly and carefully, and control the risk to your investment according to your level of comfort.

It's important to know what the true final cost of delivering the items to your door will be

5. Learn the basics of importing

We've spoken with scores of sellers who source their products internationally, and many are very comfortable and at ease with the process. But, it's not as easy as reselling an item you found at your neighbor's yard sale. There are some obstacles you must navigate before you can reap the benefits of international trade.

For example, there are duties and tariffs that may have to be paid before you can clear your items through U.S. Customs and Border Protection and get your delivery. These fees apply even if you're only importing a single item. It's easy to see "free shipping" (which many manufacturers were offering when we looked) and assume you have no additional cost, but you may still have to pay customs fees. It's important to know for certain, exactly what the true final cost of delivering the items to your door will be.

6. Importing fees vary by product

You'll need to familiarize yourself with the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. This is an international standard that applies specific codes to products. (In the U.S., it's administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection). The schedule defines all the fees you'll have to pay to import specific items.

When we say "specific," we're not kidding. It's very easy to make assumptions, and therefore mistakes, about the products you're bringing home. For example, if you buy MP3 players fully assembled, that's one Harmonized Code. If you buy those MP3 players with a carrying case, that's another code. If you're buying just the carrying case, that's yet another code, and the fees vary according to what you're importing. A small investment of time researching duties on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site can save you quite a bit of time in the long run.

Now you know some of the potential opportunities and pitfalls of international trade through AliExpress. We hope you feel intrigued, empowered, and curious about trying the site for yourself. You will find that, despite the time and distance between you and your prospective trading partner, you are still dealing with people—not a Web site or a corporation, but people. As such, those people are likely to come in all flavors: honest, crafty, kind, helpful and greedy.

But, for the most part, no matter where we are, most people are just trying to earn their livings and care for their families. Your new international trading partner could become the best boost your business has had a while, and a good friend and partner to boot!

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website, bradanddeb.com.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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