Hands On with the AliExpress app

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WHAT IS IT?

AliExpress is an online retail platform owned by Chinese firm Alibaba that is fast gaining popularity in the UK.

It started as a business-to-business selling portal in 2010, but soon expanded into business-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer, and now boasts a worldwide audience to rival that of Amazon and Ebay.

Unlike its western-focused rivals, AliExpress is designed to offer Chinese businesses’ goods to the international marketplace.

This means that shoppers here in the UK can find everything from mobile phones to wedding dresses at a fraction of the price they’d be sold for on the high street.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

For anyone who has used Ebay or Amazon, AliExpress will look pretty familiar.

Once downloaded from the iOS or Android app store, users will be presented will a similar homepage, displaying different options to shop.

Users can directly search for what they’re looking for in the top search bar, which includes a “smart image search” option allowing users to simply snap the item they want to buy to find similar options.

If you’re not looking for anything specific, there’s an “Inspiration” section, which provides general categories ranging from kids to beauty.

It also includes a “Flash Deals” section displaying a mixed list of discounted items from a raft of sellers. Again, the range is eclectic including everything from Lego sunglasses for $1.79 to a Moroccan themed floor sticker for $24.69, all with a limited time to purchase before the discount runs out.

A community section, which acts as a blog and allows users to post pictures and videos of their purchases alongside reviews and advice, is also a nice addition. This includes a “Trend Talk” section and an AliExpress Live option where live presentations of products are made by sellers.

Once you find an item you’re interested in, the page will provide most of the information you’ll be familiar with. The product reviews from users clearly display which country they are from, as postage considerations are usually a big factor when making purchases on the app.

One of the most important factors is a review of the seller. Due to the huge range of manufacturers and sellers across AliExpress’ platform, this can mean the difference between a bargain and a disappointing purchase. There is also an option to contact the seller prior to making a purchase, which is often necessary to determine shipping arrangements and costs internationally.

To complete the purchase, like any other app, you need to create an account and register your address and banking details. This is made easier with the option to sign up with your Facebook or Google accounts.

HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?

AliExpress for the most part is a pleasure to use and despite many of the brands and sellers being entirely unknown to western shoppers, it will seem entirely familiar and intuitive.

One thing that is notable about AliExpress compared to its western counterparts is its fantastic Trustpilot score. Though this can often be misrepresentative, its worth noting that it has five stars from 36,485 reviews, compared to Gumtree’s one star from 709 reviews and Ebay’s one star from 4009 reviews.

There are some draw backs however. First of all, the homepage can be a little daunting for first time users. It’s incredibly crowded and bombards users with such a wide range of goods it can be hard to determine where to head.

Though its true users can find some genuinely amazing bargains, this can often be offset by postage and import costs. Many items come with free shipping, but this generally takes far longer than it would if you purchased from more local sellers.

For more expensive items like tech and gadgets where you’ll be getting the best bargains, this can often be offset by the postage and import costs.

Other considerations including a manageable but noticeable language barrier. Many items will be listed in with fairly broken descriptions and communicating with sellers can often be a little difficult.

Due to its business-to-business heritage, the occasional item which may appear to be a fantastic bargain may only be available to buy in bulk, with the seller imposing a minimum purchase number.

SHOULD I TRY IT?

Despite its potential pitfalls and initially daunting platform, AliExpress can be incredibly good fun for bargain hunters.

If you’re the sort of shopper who would rather shop around for the best possible deal and are not swayed by owning a recognisable brands, AliExpress is a goldmine.

Equally for small business or independent retailers looking to purchase stock at a great price, the sellers available on the platform offer some genuinely great stuff at a fantastic price.

That said, with any shopping platform, there are some sellers pushing substandard goods. Therefore, perhaps more than other platforms, seller and product review are very important.

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