Alibaba vs Aliexpress: The Lowdown

Samuel Clennett
30.09.20
4 minute read

Both Alibaba and AliExpress are big names in retail, especially in Asia. They’re online shopping platforms selling a vast range of products to global audiences, and both are based in China. Some people mix the two up, but they actually work in quite different ways and cater for specific markets.

In this guide, we’ll explore the key differences between Alibaba and AliExpress, including which could be best for you as either a personal or business customer.

We’ll also look at how to pay on both Alibaba and AliExpress, which includes using Wise on both platforms.

Open a free Wise multi-currency account and you can order from Alibaba and send money to your Chinese suppliers at the real exchange rate – and super low fees. You can also buy anything you need online at AliExpress using your linked Platinum debit Mastercard.

But more on this later. Let’s start by comparing Alibaba and AliExpress side-by-side.

Alibaba vs AliExpress

The main difference between Alibaba and AliExpress is that one caters for business-to-business (B2B) customers and the other for regular consumers.

Alibaba is a worldwide trading platform, where businesses will find suppliers and place bulk orders. It’s a wholesale site requiring bulk orders. There’s often a great deal of communication between buyers and sellers as they aim to strike deals and agree prices, as well as arranging shipping and other details.

AliExpress, meanwhile, works as a standard eCommerce site. Here, you can buy individual products just like you would at a similar site such as Amazon, with no need to negotiate with suppliers or buy in bulk. You simply add a product to your basket, checkout and pay the advertised price – and the item is shipped directly to your door.

The other key differences between the two platforms include¹:

  • Businesses can buy customised products with their own branding labels at Alibaba – this isn’t an option at AliExpress.
  • Shipping is usually speedy with AliExpress, as it sells manufactured products. It can take much longer with Alibaba, as products are manufactured in bulk to order.

In terms of similarities²:

  • Both platforms are owned by multi-national company, the Alibaba Group.
  • There are Buyer Protection policies in place to protect buyers at both Alibaba and AliExpress.
  • A range of payment methods are available at both platforms.
  • Prices tend to be super cheap at both Alibaba and AliExpress, as products are sourced from Chinese suppliers where manufacturing and shipping costs are lower.

Alibaba - in short³

Alibaba is a B2B wholesale marketplace, targeting businesses and their suppliers. It’s owned by the Alibaba Group, with headquarters in China.

Here’s how it works:

  • It doesn’t cater to ordinary consumers – the platform is geared around bulk orders and there are usually high minimum order requirements (which also means that prices per unit are super low).
  • Prices aren’t usually fixed - buyers often have to approach sellers to negotiate a price.
  • Businesses can get custom orders made at Alibaba.
  • Most suppliers are Chinese factories and manufacturers, but the platform is open to buyers from all over the world.

AliExpress – in short⁴

AliExpress is a typical online retail platform, selling directly to customers. It has a vast range of products in all kinds of categories, including electronics, beauty products, fashion, sports equipment, toys, pet supplies, jewellery, home appliances and much more.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • There are no minimum order requirements – you can buy one product, a whole basket or hundreds of items if you want.
  • Prices are cheaper than at other retailers, but still higher than wholesale prices.
  • There’s no need for negotiation or to communicate with sellers – you simply click, pay and checkout instantly, and the order is shipped straight to you.

Paying on Alibaba and AliExpress

If you’re buying from AliExpress and you’re having items shipped to you in Australia, the only payment method accepted by most sellers is credit or debit card⁵.

All major credit/debit card providers are accepted, including MasterCard – so you can use your Wise Platinum debit MasterCard to spend up a storm at AliExpress.

Alibaba works quite differently, as it isn’t a ‘click and buy’ kind of platform for the buyer. Once buyer and seller have successfully negotiated and agreed a price, payment can be arranged. Alibaba accepts the following payment methods⁶:

  • Credit or debit card
  • Telegraphic transfer
  • PayPal
  • Online bank payment
  • Pay Later
  • Western Union
  • Boleto.

Remember that not all of these options will be suitable for paying a Chinese supplier in AUD, so either buyer or seller could be stung by high currency conversion fees.

One of the best options to pay overseas suppliers is to use an international money transfer specialist such as Wise. Open a free Wise for Business account and you can pay suppliers in their own currency, with transparent, low fees. And here’s the good bit – you’ll always get the real, mid-market exchange rate, with no costly mark-up added on top.

You can hold, send and convert 50+ currencies⁷ all from the one borderless account, and there’s also your handy Platinum debit MasterCard if you need to spend online (at AliExpress, for example) or in a physical store at home or overseas.


So, you should now have a good idea of how both Alibaba and its consumer retail arm AliExpress work.

If you run a business and need a cheap way to source large quantities of custom products, Alibaba is a great choice. Just make sure to practice your negotiation skills and be prepared to bargain hard.

Alternatively, you can do your shopping as a personal customer over at AliExpress, where it’s simple and quick to click, pay and buy. Happy shopping!


Sources used:

  1. EasyShip - Alibaba vs Aliexpress
  2. EasyShip - Alibaba vs Aliexpress
  3. What is the difference between Alibaba and Aliexpress
  4. What is the difference between Alibaba and Aliexpress
  5. Aliexpress
  6. How to see on Alibaba
  7. Wise - Multi-Currency Account

Sources checked on 30-September 2020.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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