Due Diligence
8
May 2015

How to Avoid an Aliexpress Scam

As Alibaba Group’s "Aliexpress" service continues to grow in popularity, unfortunately we are starting to hear more and more about the "Aliexpress Scam".

In case you haven’t heard, Aliexpress is essentially a Chinese version of eBay, just the sellers are all Chinese individuals and companies whilst the buyers are individuals overseas.

Much like its more famous counterpart Alibaba, Aliexpress attracts customers with a huge range of products and fantastic prices, but it is also plagued somewhat by dubious business practices by the stores it hosts.

In this article we present some practical advice for buyers on how to avoid an Aliexpress scam.

If the Price Seems too Good to Be True…… Then it Probably is!

This tip sounds like common sense, but it is amazing how many consumers get blinded by the promise of a great deal.

It’s easy to get scammed when price is your only criteria. However, for most foreign buyers, one of the biggest attractions of Aliexpress lies in the variety of unbelievable cheap products to be purchased directly from China, without having to go through an intermediary.

Difficult, but as a buyer you need to ask yourself before making a purchase: is it really possible that the seller could offer the product at such a low price?

As the above meme so perfectly illustrates, make sure you have realistic expectations for what you are buying. It doesn’t just apply to clothing!

Avoid Branded and Electrical Products

Many consumers consider Aliexpress to be something of a buyer’s paradise for bags, clothing and accessories. However, from the enquiries we receive and comments we read on forums, the experiences buying big brands and electrical products aren’t so good.

There is no clearer example of this than on this eye-catching review from an Aliexpress user, Todd, who claims he was scammed 57 times in one day!

Although this is obviously a rather sensationalist claim, there are some very good points made in Todd’s article, namely:


The problem with Aliexpress – as a whole – is that there is NOT ONE single legitimate brand name product sold on the site.

and


If you are looking for anything technical like an iPod, cell phone, or computer, beware that you could end up with a very poor quality product and have little recourse to get your money back.

Aliexpress' own help center also reminds buyers that name brand products sold at far lower prices are mostly fakes.

Although the appeal of buying a cut-price iPhone 6 from Aliexpress is high, the chance of getting a knock-off or falling victim to an Aliexpress scam is bordering on 100%.

Be Cautious with Your Payment Method

Aliexpress offers escrow service which can help buyers get a replacement or refund in the event of a dispute. It isn’t without its problems though – here is more from Todd:


..even after showing considerable evidence that your product is faulty or incorrect, it’s like there’s nobody there to look over the facts. Many times, you get an automatic rejection. It’s ridiculous.

You eventually either lose your money or you are left with the option of shipping the item back.



Despite their escrow service not being well regarded, it’s still a better payment option than using Western Union or making payment by bank transfer, where you really have no recourse in the event of a scam.

Check the Seller’s Feedback, Very Carefully

Aliexpress has implemented a user review and rating system, which although far from foolproof, is still a useful tool to help consumers make purchasing decisions.

The limitations of Aliexpress’ user review system is undermined by the existence of many stores using deceptive methods to achieve a better rating.

However, given the lack of a transparent store verification system, there is still some useful information for buyers to gleam from comments. But, you have to read the comments really carefully to look for warning signs – as Todd explains:


..the seller will usually offer you a refund if you leave them a 5 star rating.

I was given this option about 70% of the time with my defective orders.



Also, when you look through Seller Ratings, you will occasionally notice 5 Star Ratings with a negative comment behind it. Who does that?



Only Buy From Verified “Gold” Suppliers?

Advice from the Aliexpress Help Center, as viewed 8 May 2015

Oddly, we noticed this advice in the Aliexpress Help Center (apologies for the small text size):

They recommend buying from their Gold Suppliers, but as far as we can tell there are no Gold Suppliers in Aliexpress currently!

As we’ve previously discussed on this blog, the Alibaba Gold Supplier system is highly flawed and many previous “Verified” gold members have been blacklisted.

Currently there is no clear way for buyers to understand how stores are verified, or even know who really operates them.

Avoiding an Aliexpress Scam: Our Conclusion

Given the poor controls in place on Aliexpress the surest way to avoid an Aliexpress scam is to not use the website in the first place.

If you do choose to shop on Aliexpress, do so with great caution, lower your expectations and always remember the saying “you only get what you pay for”.

Further reading