A few weeks ago I took the time to properly discover AliExpress, and I’m in love.
AliExpress, if you don’t already know about it, is a Chinese website that’s kind of a cross between Amazon and eBay. There are individual “stores” and sellers, but you buy things outright instead of any kind of bidding or auctioning system. It’s owned by mega-giant company Alibaba Group, and is currently the most visited e-commerce website in Russia. Most importantly, things are pretty cheap for Western currencies.
With that in mind, there are a few rules to satisfyingly shop from AliExpress:
1. Don’t buy anything edible or consumable.
2. Don’t buy electronics. That $30 smart watch seems cheap because it IS.
3. Don’t spend more on any single item than you’re willing to lose.
4. The clothing sizes are quite different, so go by measurements and not sizes.
5. Things with fabric might smell like terrifying chemical death when they arrive. Just leave them to sit in the garage for a week, and try not to think too much about it.
One of the great things about AliExpress is that shipping for individual consumer items is usually free, thanks to the fact that the mail system in China is heavily subsidized by the government. However, the free shipping options are also not particularly quick — some of my orders have arrived in 10 days, some in two weeks, and more over a month or even two.
I should also clarify the “willing to lose” rule, as well. AliExpress is a real e-commerce site backed by a giant multi-national respectable organization. Any money you spend on purchases goes through “AliPay”, which works like PayPal in that you have very clear and responsive paths to request a refund. However, much like with eBay some of the sellers can be unreliable, and a very small number will be outright scams. There’s nothing inherently dishonest about AliExpress, but you are ordering a widget from an anonymous person on the other side of the world, so it’s not an entirely risk-free venture.
It is, however, cheap, fun, and really easy to shop from your phone while lying in bed. (Not that I’ve ever done that. Noooope.) So what HAVE I bought from AliExpress? Behold my deliveries so far:
LED strips – Cost: $2.95
This LED strip came with a USB terminal and sticky tape on the back, perfect for television back lighting. Out of curiosity we checked with a friend-of-a-friend, a PhD who is a combustion expert, and between the low voltage of USB connections and all the fire retardants used in the production of televisions, this product is monumentally unlikely to be a fire hazard.
Nail plates – Cost: $.93 per plate!
Nail stamping plates are pretty much the ideal thing to buy off AliExpress — a simple manufactured good. All the plates I’ve received so far have worked perfectly, except the metal edges are very sharp. Be prepared to sand them down a bit for your own safety!
Stickers – Cost: $3.50 for 100 non-repeating stickers
Why do I need a pile of vinyl graffiti stickers? Why not?! These are fantastic, come in a huge variety of designs, and are made well. Decorate your laptop, computer case, pen bags, pets, whatever!
Handbags – Cost: $17.50 (or $600 at Bloomingdales)
This is, obviously, a completely legitimate Issey Miyake Bao Bao tote. It came with the expected tags, and the correct branding stamped into the “leather” and on the grommets and zipper pull, just like a real Bao Bao tote, which this is. Obviously.
Things I have ordered that have not yet arrived: nail polish ($3 per bottle), washi tape ($1 per roll), a selfie stick ($4, don’t judge me).
Anyway, if you enjoy retail therapy and cute little doodads, AliExpress has been an entirely enjoyable shopping experience and I highly recommend it.