Buying stuff from China

Yesterday I bought 10 pairs of breathable bamboo fiber socks for $4.65, that will be shipped to my doorstep free of charge. Intrigued? Read further. Note: buying stuff online is not for everyone, and if you lack patience and are not willing to accept certain risks, do your shopping at physical stores.

Vancouver living is expensive. According to, the living wage for two working parents with 2 kids in Vancouver is $20.10/hr, with both parents working full-time. I too have been in a situation when I had to decide between buying new socks or something other than ramen noodles for dinner. However, if you have been on my blog for long enough, you know that there are ways of saving money in Vancouver. I have found yet another way, which I am happy to share.

Helpful article: Is AliExpress Safe?

I have been buying stuff from China for a little over a year now, and I have tried several websites. My main concerns were:

  1. Not to be scammed (e.g. pay and never see the product).
  2. Not to be “catfished” (e.g. pay for one thing, and then get something different).

I have started with the most popular sites like eBay and Amazon, but I have quickly learned that for the most part, the prices there are very close to the ones you see in stores. I still use both when I need a branded product or something specific (e.g. motorcycle parts, books, etc). Then at some point I heard from a coworker about, where he bought a tablet and a phone for his wife and mother-in-law. I have given them a try on the 30th of May, 2013, buying a memory card and the USB adapter for the car. The shipping was slow, there was no tracking number, and customer service took 4 working days to respond to my inquiry.

My other try was As much as I loved having a ton of options, this website is geared towards connecting large suppliers with mass buyers; and in most cases the shipping for a smaller quantity would cost more than the product.

2014-12-10 09.34.01 amThat’s when I found Aliexpress, which is a part of Alibaba Group. The main difference is shipping: on Alibaba is not often included (it varies drastically depending on the quantity), but on Aliexpress shipping is free for most products, and the tracking number is almost always included. Aliexpress allow credit card purchases (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro), SWIFT Wire transfers, Western Union, and a few others, that are not as popular in USA/Canada. Aliexpress use Escrow, which means the payment will not be released to the seller unless you confirm the receipt or until the purchase protection expires (usually, 45 days, and it can be extended). I have made 112 orders since Feb. 9 2014, and so far have had three issues altogether:

1. Ordered 3 oil filters for my bike, and received some random plush toy. Upon contacting the seller and providing pictures, a full refund was issued, and I did not have to send the wrong product back.

2. Ordered motorcycle boots for Maria in September, and the tracking froze at being put on the plane to Canada. In mid-October I have started a dispute, and a week later I had my full refund via Aliexpress. The boots did show up 2 weeks after I was refunded, so I contacted the seller and arranged the payment with a discount for the delay.

3. Ordered motorcycle pants, which were advertised as being waterproof and having CE armour in knees. The pants were waterproof for the most part, however there was a stretching insert in the crotch area that was made out of non-waterproof cloth, and the CE armour was missing (an honest mistake, I believe). I have contacted the seller, who offered to send the product back for a full refund, or issue a partial refund and send me the CE armour inserts for knees. I chose the second option, received a refund within a week, and the CE inserts 2 weeks later.


“[Alibaba Group] Sales for 2014 are estimated at $420 Billion. In 2012 sales were $170 Billion. This dwarfs Amazon, its closest competitor, with reported sales of $74.4 Billion for fiscal 2013 while EBay reported sales for fiscal 2013 of $16 Billion, less than one-tenth Alibaba’s 2012 sales.”

If you plan on shopping at Aliexpress, keep in mind:

1. Do not order merchandise that is branded (e.g. D&G, Gucci), however tempting it may be. If you import something into the country, you are responsible for ensuring that these goods are not illegal to import. And counterfeit goods are illegal.

2. Remember to keep track of your orders. There are a few ways of doing it, but my favourite is I track my orders daily, which may be an overkill, but better safe than sorry, right?

3. Always confirm the receipt of the order in your order list, and leave feedback for sellers. If there is a problem with the sale, do not rush to start a dispute, and contact the seller first to give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves. More often than not, the seller will work with you to rectify the situation.

4. Check product and seller feedback, and the item description before ordering. Keep in mind, that Aliexpress is a marketplace; same as eBay, they only connect you to the seller. It is up to the seller to be honest when the listing is created, and the buyer to do some due diligence.

5. Search for the product to see if there are any other sellers who have it for the cheaper price. Note, that sorting by the price only takes the cost of the item into the account, so click on the Free Shipping checkbox. Sorting by the number of orders is also helpful at times, but note, that sometimes the seller will purposely lower the price to make a ton of sales, and then will increase the price.

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6. Mind the language barrier. Most sellers only speak basic English, and probably use some sort of online translators. There is no need to be condescending, patronizing or disrespectful. Most sellers are honest and hardworking people, so be understanding and accommodating. Keep your language simple, and be friendly.

7. If you do not understand something, contact the seller before you make the order. This will show how easy it is to get a hold of the seller in case something goes wrong.

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