While the Chinese conglomerate touches on a little bit of everything – from cloud computing to digital media production – its main focus remains the sprawling e-commerce network that has catapulted it to household name status.
Yet size does not necessarily equal security. When you shop on Alibaba, you shouldn't do so without thinking. That doesn't mean you should avoid the site, but it does mean you should pay attention. Here are five red flags about shopping on Alibaba, straight from retail experts.
5 red flags about shopping on Alibaba
1. Yes, scams exist
“I would say the main concern when shopping on Alibaba is avoiding potential scams,” says Andy Kalmon. “Fortunately, it's pretty easy to avoid scams. Just look for sellers with the Trade Assurance seal.”
Alibaba's Trade Assurance seal is unmistakable: It's a golden, castle-shaped icon with a white dollar in the center. It is a real insurance policy for everything you buy through Alibaba. It also allows you to set a shipping date, so you can better track and anticipate the arrival of your products.
“Only transact on the site itself,” adds Andy Kalmon. “Beware of sellers who ask you to transfer the transaction off the site. It's also important to note that haggling is expected, so don't feel rude if you negotiate with a seller before committing to a purchase.”
2. Seller return policies are important
Sure, Alibaba has return policies, but they are more like guidelines that serve as a de facto intermediary between the buyer and the seller.
Instead, Jonathan Rogers advises shoppers to check the return policy of each seller they purchase a product from. “Make sure you know when and how to expect your money back.”
Jonathan Rogers also advises checking to see if there are any return shipping fees. “You can take extra precautions by using a third-party payment system that offers buyer protection or by purchasing product insurance.”
3. Avoid anything that is subject to regulations.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's essential advice: It's probably better to buy regulated items from a specialty seller than from a mass retailer. This is especially true on a site like Alibaba, where scams can be, if not prevalent, at least present to some degree.
“It's best to avoid buying items with strict safety regulations, such as medical devices or children's toys,” warns Rakhi Oswal. “You should read reviews from other buyers, check the supplier's credentials and use secure payment methods.”
4. Don't expect same-day delivery
The “one-stop stores” of the day have raised the expectation of near-instant delivery, with sites like Amazon dangling the possibility of next-day or even same-day delivery. You shouldn't expect that much if you buy products from Alibaba, simply because of geography.
“It's important to be patient,” says Rakhi Oswal. “Delivery times can be longer than what you're used to for your domestic purchases.”
The adage “try before you buy” applies to both one-time purchases and larger shipments. Before you buy 500 copies of a product, be aware that you have the right to request a trial run.
“If you plan to buy an item in bulk, try the product in advance,” Cesar Cruz recommends. “For example, let's say you found a customizable T-shirt on Alibaba that would be a good fit for your sports team or club. In case the item does not match the advertised quality, test it before placing a large order”, recommends Sebastian Cruz.
“Many sellers require a minimum order limit, so you may have to contact the seller directly to request and purchase a sample,” he adds.
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