Dropshipping is ever more popular these days, and the runaway success of sites like AliExpress is one key reason why. Online stores that use dropshipping can sell items at a healthily marked-up price without needing to buy them in bulk, store them, or even fulfil orders. And AliExpress has so many millions of products on sale that you’re bound to find something you want to sell.
But AliExpress dropshipping isn’t as easy as all that. In this guide, you’ll find out how the process works, and also learn about some of the pros and cons of doing business in this manner.
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Let’s start with the basics. What is this new way of selling?
Dropshipping is a retail method that’s actually very straightforward. A seller who uses dropshipping creates an online store that looks much like any other – but there’s a key difference. The seller doesn’t have to actually buy any of the products they list for sale.
Instead, every time they get an order, they simply pass that order straight on to their supplier, and the supplier handles the entire rest of the process.
In other words, a dropshipping retailer doesn’t ever have to actually see the items that they sell. They don’t have to order in bulk, they don’t have to look after stock in a warehouse, they don’t even have to fulfil orders. They pretty much just have to list the product on their website.
Unsurprisingly, dropshipping has proved hugely popular with online retailers who don’t want to get too involved with their products, and those who don’t have the funds needed to get started running a more hands-on sort of business.
AliExpress is often called the Chinese eBay, and that’s not a bad description to start with. It’s a vast online marketplace that lets countless sellers offer their products for sale. Thanks to the nature of the global economy, prices often seem impressively cheap from an American perspective. How many products does it have? Some 100 million¹.
Unlike Alibaba, which is a more Amazon-like, customer-facing site, AliExpress has considerable appeal for businesses as well as consumers. Which is where dropshipping comes in.
Is dropshipping allowed on AliExpress? In a single word: yes. It’s well established, in fact, and a lot of the stores you’ll find browsing AliExpress will be well prepared to do this with you.
There’s an art to doing it right, though – like anything else in business, you do need to put the effort in. Here’s what you need to know.
As mentioned earlier, there are positives and negatives when it comes to AliExpress for dropshipping. But before we run through all the pros and cons, it’s worth giving you a clearer idea of what the process actually involves. So here’s an overview of how it all works.
First things first – you can’t sell anything at all unless you have some sort of store to sell it from. This can be any sort of website you like – you could design your own from scratch, you could use a site like Wordpress, or you could use something like Shopify or WooCommerce to get a bit more help with the nitty gritty.
The next step is to work out how you’re going to connect your store to your dropshipping supplier.
And why do you need this, you might ask? Can’t you just connect your supplier and your store directly?
Not really. Or rather, you could, but there’d be a lot of work for you to do as an intermediary, making sure the listings were fully updated all the time, and manually informing the supplier each and every time an order was placed.
The advantage of using an app here is that much of the process can be done automatically. The most famous example of an app that does this is Oberlo, which plugs into Shopify stores – in fact, Oberlo is owned by Shopify. You can use Oberlo to connect with AliExpress retailers.
But there are plenty of alternatives as well. There’s Dropified, Importify, DSers, Shopmaster, AliDropship, and many more. Some exclusively deal with AliExpress; some can connect you to other marketplaces as well. Likewise, some are specifically Shopify apps, whereas others connect to different platforms.
You’ll probably have made a start on this already, but now’s the time to go for it. The best way to start is by browsing AliExpress – seriously, set some time aside for this, it’s enormous – and work out the sort of product you want to sell.
Once you’ve found a few items that look ideal, look at who the seller is. This is your potential dropshipping partner. And if you believe you've found it too, time to get to work. You’ll probably be able to use your app for this – Oberlo, Dropified, or whatever you’ve gone for – in order to formally set yourself up with your seller.
And now we’re in business, pretty much. You’ll now be able to select the items you want to sell and list them in your store, as well as to set a price with a markup. When you receive the order, you should be paying the wholesale price for it - and then AliExpress would ship the product to your customer.
Although some aspects of the listings import may be automated, this is a step where that personal touch goes a long, long way. Working out exactly how to sell the products is the part of the process where you really should come into your own as a salesperson. So make sure your listings really sparkle, while still representing the product itself as accurately as you can.
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing: just like with any business enterprise, laziness won’t get you very far. True, the whole point of dropshipping is that you have less work than you do running a traditional store, but that really doesn’t mean you can sit back.
Think about your products, think about their listings, think about their prices. Think about marketing, and SEO. Who are your competitors? Who’s undercutting you? Where are your customers coming from, and what else do they want from you?
Dropshipping is a comparatively easy way to start out in running a shop, but don’t forget: you’re still running a business.
So, we’ve seen how the process works, but the key question remains: is dropshipping with AliExpress the right move for you? Here are a few thoughts for and against.
- Dropshipping is convenient. There’s no denying it: not having to buy stock, store it, or fulfil your orders, makes dropshipping a highly convenient way to run an online store with low overheads.
- AliExpress is huge. It might not be the place to go if you’re after high-quality luxury, but the sheer scale of AliExpress means that there is something there for pretty much anyone you can think of. Surely you can find a handful of things that appeal to you, when you have 100 million to choose from.
- AliExpress dropshipping is well established. Further extending the point about convenience, it’s worth noting that you’ll be treading familiar territory if you decide to dropship with AliExpress. Which means, while you may not win any business innovation awards, you’ll have the advantages that come from doing something others have done before you – smooth connections to your shop and your dropshipping app, for instance; suppliers who know how dropshipping works; and plenty of advice online.
You’ve got competition. Sadly, both the convenience of dropshipping and the size of AliExpress mean that plenty of others have probably already had similar business ideas to yours. Competition is a particular concern when you’re not even in control of your product – you’re simply buying it in from someone else. So you’ll need to be alert to this and really think about how to stand out.
There are still plenty of costs. Sure, you don’t have to invest heavily in stock or storage, but you’re not completely free of business expenses. You’ll need to pay to get a decent website, for example, which will involve paying for hosting. Then there’ll be fees to the platform – Shopify or Wordpress, perhaps – as well as for your app – Oberlo, AliDropship, whoever else. And advertising your store comes at a cost, too.
The shipping can take quite some time. Fast turnaround times are not a luxury afforded to AliExpress dropshippers. The product is coming all the way from China, after all, and could – often will – take weeks and weeks. And of course, you as the middleman don’t really have much say over this. So you’ll need to be very conservative when estimating delivery times to your potential customers.
You lack control. It’s possible – advisable, in fact – to establish good relations with your supplier, but the simple truth is that your business is kind of in their hands. If they ship the wrong product, mess up the packaging, or get the paperwork wrong, your customer is going to come knocking at your door, even though you might not know what actually went wrong. Sadly, this is the price you pay for handing control of so much of the process to someone else.
Is this the right path for you, then? It depends what you want out of your online retail business. If you want to focus on setting up a great-looking online store, innovating when it comes to product listing and marketing concepts, and plugging in to a vast marketplace of pre-existing products, then AliExpress dropshipping could be perfect.
If, however, you’re more concerned with selling bespoke or high-quality items, it might not be right for you. You could also be put off by the thought of having to advertise such long shipping times to your potential customers. Plus, there’s the simple fact that you’ll be entrusting so much of your business to a third party – who you’ll probably never even meet. That means that dropshipping with AliExpress probably isn’t for everyone.
Plenty of other dropshipping suppliers are out there, too – whether that involves tapping into another marketplace, or finding a more bespoke supplier to work with. Or of course you could try out doing business in the traditional way, so long as you can afford to buy in bulk. However you choose to proceed, good luck.
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