Most of the time I feature products that are sold on Chinese online stores, because it’s either the only way, or the cheaper way to purchase the products. However, it’s not always easy to decide which Chinese e-retailer to select, and to avoid potential pitfalls with the sellers, and/or at home when you receive the products and get charged all sort of taxes. In this post, I’ll go through a list of Chinese online stores, the ones I personally use, and others, and then provide a guide with a series of tips and recommendations to hopefully help you shop with minimal worries. I’ll only cover retail stores, and skip wholesale sites such as Alibaba.
Before I get the list of stores, it’s important to consider there are two types of stores:
- E-retailers (B2C) – In this case, you buy directly from the retailer which collects payment, and handles shipping and support. Examples are DealExtreme and GeekBuying.
- Seller Portals – The website then acts as a third party for transactions between two parties: a seller (individual or small business) and a buyer. Examples are Ebay and Aliexpress.
If you purchase any item from an e-retailers, you’re likely to have the same level of support and overall experience next time you purchase a product. But if you buy from Ebay or Aliexpress for instance, you may want to check the seller ratings and other buyers’ feedback before committing to a purchase. There tends to be a wider range of products and cheaper prices on sellers portals.
There’s another type of sites using the dropshipping service of some e-retailers. They are just a website to allow people to purchase, but all product shipping and handling is done by the original e-retailer. I believe none of the sites listed below are dropshipping websites.
For full disclosure, please note that some of the links below will be affiliate links either manually, or via auto-generated links through a service called skimlinks.
I’ll start by the ones that I regularly use by order of preference:
- Dealextreme – I do most of my purchases via dx.com, mostly because I’ve gotten used to it, the price are OK (most of the time), they accept Paypal, and I clearly understand their various policies in terms of shipping, and returns. If you have a reasonable proof a product is defective, or not as described, they’ll either provide a refund (as dx points), or pay for return shipping (amount limited) and refund later.. I’ll explain a bit more in other sections of the post.
- Ebay – OK. I reckon Ebay is not exactly a Chinese website, but most of the purchases I make there come from China or Hong Kong. If something is not available or too expensive on DealExtreme, I fall back on Ebay, mostly because they accept Paypal, which is my favorite means of payment.
- Aliexpress – It’s a seller portal with a large number of sellers, and an amazing choice of products. If I can’t get what I need from Ebay or Dx.com, I’ll use Aliexpress where I’m pretty sure to find anything. It would probably be my first choice, if they accepted Paypal. You have to be especially careful however with some tricks sellers are using to deceive prospective buyers. More details below.
There are three others e-retailers, I’ve either used infrequently, and/or who have provided samples to cnx-software.com in the past or currently:
- Pandawill (Update 2019: Now closed)- This e-retailer is relatively popular and sells gadgets, clothes, and (cheap) jewelry. I’ve purchased once, and I did not have any issues with their service or product.
- GeekBuying – I receive most of my samples for review from GeekBuying, and although I’ve never purchased from them, they seem to be very popular, and trusted by the community. One reason could be because they try to release firmware for their devices regularly, and they are involved in the community. They mainly sell gadgets, but I’ve recently seen some (cheap) jewelry too.
- W2COMP – The company fully specializes in electronics gadgets, and they’ve sent me a sample in the past. I could also them get products reviewed by Liliputing a few times. They do not appear to be that popular, but I haven’t heard much bad reports about them. I also never purchased from them.
Over the years, I’ve been tipped for several products by my readers from other sites, all e-retailers, including banggood.com, buyincoins, focalprice.com, lightake.com. tinydeal.com, chinavasion.com and
ahappydeal.com. I’ve never used them before, so I can’t comment on their reliability or trustworthiness. If people can comment about their experience with these it could be useful to others.
Before you shop on a website, you’ll probably want to know if it is trustworthy. One way is to use Google to find out if people mention scams, bad customer services and so on. For every sites you’ll find some negative reviews, as you can’t please anyone. But do not let these scare, and try to find overall what people think about the sites, products and service. Another, possibly faster, way is check the sellers on Resellerratings and compare various sites.
Once you’re happy with the site, but you’re using a seller portal you’ll need to check the seller ratings on the site itself (e.g. Ebay/Aliexpress). After each buyer receive a parcel, they’ll normally give a mark between 1 and 5 stars depending on the shipping speed, if the product matches the description and so on. If a seller a no feedback, it does not mean they are bad, but you’re taking more risk than with a seller with 1,000 reviews and a 99% approval rating. Even though Aliexpress or Ebay can act as a third party to resolve cases, it’s always better not to get bad service/products, because of time wasted, and return shipping may be prohibitively expensive.
If you want to be thorough, you can also check the product itself before purchase, checking for blog reviews, seller reviews on Amazon, and so on. Of course, if the product is really new, you’ll have to take a change, and/or wait for reviews.
Another relatively important point is to understand the terms and conditions of the websites. There are not always clearly stated, and most people don’t like to go through pages of legalese, so only experience can help here.
For example, in the case of DealExtreme, I’ve come understand they don’t use a tracking number for packages less than $15. And since packages without tracking tend to get lost – It happened to me twice -, I now always tries to make order over $15 to get a tracking code. If a package without tracking never shows up, DealExtreme will provide DX credits, but you’ll need to wait over 2 or 3 months before making the request for refund, which is a pain. When you order multiple items, some may be out of stock, so they’ll do a partial shipment. In case you’ll get a tracking code if the value is over $6.
Understanding how the company handles return shipping is also important. With DealExtreme, for package below $12 or $15 (can’t remember) which are shown not to work, the company will issue a refund in DX credits, and for parcels with higher values will cover the costs for return shipping with tracking for up to 10% of the value. Of course, this is now always enough (I never had to tried), and you may have to pay a little extra for return shipping. Once I had to return a product which did not work as expected, and bought from Ebay, and I had to pay for shipping myself.
Most sites will accept Credit Card (Visa/Mastercard), many will accept Paypal, and other online payment systems such as QIWI, Webmoney, Checkout.com, as well as Western Union. The mean of payment is most probably just a matter of preference, unless maybe with Western Union where it may be more difficult to get a refund (TBC).
If you want to save a few more bucks before order, look for coupons on Google, or wait for regular promotional events where you can get very large discounts, albeit in limited quantities (first come, first served).
Although the companies are all based in China, they will use various postal services that can be listed in two categories:
- Standard mail
- China Post – This is sometimes the cheapest, but one of the slowest. It takes about 4 weeks to reach Thailand (where I’m based). Also make sure with the seller there’s a tracking number to avoid losses.
- Hong Kong Post – More reliable and faster than China Post. It takes about 3 weeks to reach Thailand.
- Singapore Post – It’s my preferred service, as it takes as little as 10 days to get the parcel after shipping.
- Sweden/Swiss Post – If you’re based in Europe these may be fine. But as I’m based in Asia, it takes an awful lot of time (6 weeks in my experience) to get the parcel. I believe there’s some kind of charter that sends to parcel to Sweden or Switzerland, and they are send forward to whatever destination.
- Courier – Fedex, DHL, UPS – More expensive, but usually very fast (2 to 4 days).
With standard mail, the delivery time depends on the destination too. I think I’ve read some destination such as Russia or South America can take pretty long time, i.e. over 6 weeks.
In you are in a hurry, courier are nice, but bear in mind, the parcel is more likely to go through customs inspection, so you’ll have to pay some import duty, plus a “custom handling” charge from the courier company. In Thailand, I usually pay 200 Baht (about $6) for this service.
Standard mail price is almost always included in the price, courier services are obviously extra, except potentially during promotions.
If you think you know exactly what you’re going to pay for your product right after your order, you may be for a nasty surprise when the parcel comes, as the postman or courier company may come with a bill asking you to pay for custom duties, VAT, and other taxes kindly invented by your government.
It varies greatly from countries to countries, and depends on the type of products. There’s usually a limit where nothing is taxed. In Thailand, this is 1,000 Baht (~$30), so I try not go over $30 if possible, or split my orders since shipping is often included. Electronics is taxed at 30%, shoes at 100% (depending on type of shoes), etc… To find out the details, you have to go a page like that from your local customs department. That’s not fun to read, and you may as well just take a chance. An easier way may be to use Duty Calculator, but I’m not sure how reliable and up-to-date the results are. Your government interpretation of product category may also be different from yours. This is actually the main reason I did not want to order from oversea website at the beginning, especially seeing what kind of VAT Amazon was adding to my bills before order…
There’s however a not-so-dark secret… Many Chinese resellers will simply send the parcel with a low declared value, or as a gift with a small value, in order to avoid custom duties. Sometimes they’ll even ask you what they should write… This looks completely illegal, but since the amounts involved are very low, and persecution of the seller virtually impossible, there are not been any crackdown on this practice. Please note that customs may also decide the declared value is too low, re-evaluate it, and charge you import duties and VAT.
In most case this is an issue, but you may also have to consider if the products you buy may not be imported into your countries. maybe immigration won’t see kindly your lighter gun, drone tracking system, RF jammer, etc…
There are a few tricks, and pitfalls you have to be aware while shopping on Chinese e-stores:
- Specifications are often wrong – In many products, there will be mistake in the specifications. Maybe that product with 2GB RAM with come with 1GB RAM, the product ends up with a different processors and so on. Good sites will generally acknowledge their error, and offer a partial refund, or ask you to return the product, and cover the cost. With Ebay and Aliexpress, this may be hit or miss, as it depends on the seller and the people in charge of resolving issues (from ebay/aliexpress).
- No stock – This has happened frequently with DealExtreme in the past year. Your order a few products, and a week later they contact you saying some of them are not in stock. If this is highly annoying, but you can easily get a partial refund or your Paypal and/or Credit card, or wait longer.
- Confusing quantities – Some sellers on Aliexpress have an original method to declare quantities. For example if they sell a media player with an extra remote, they’ll indicate two items, leaving you the impression you can get two media players, at a very good price. Common sense should prevail here, as if something is too cheap to be true, it probably is. Here are two examples with MK908 mini PC and RF remote.
- Fake reviews – Some sites put out some fake, and obviously fake at that, user’s reviews translated with Google Translate. A typical sinner is BuyinCoin. Just ignore the reviews on this site, or read them to have a laugh…
- Fake discounts – Other sites, such as GeekBuying, will show massive discount to all of their products, but give a massively inflated normal price. Don’t fall for it, and check the price of the item on other sites to double check.
- Direct Lies / Broken Promises – In many cases, you’ll chat with the seller before order, or with support. And they may just lie to you, or make promises just to break them later. This happened to me just once, when I ordered two pairs of shoes on Aliexpress from the same seller, and with shipping included. In order to avoid custom duties, I asked them to send two separate parcels (to be below the $30 limit, and avoid paying (100% duty), which they agreed with, but the guy who packed decided it was not necessary…. It was pretty annoying, but luckily I did not end up paying any duties.
I hope I did not scare you off with that long post. But if you’re getting started the key points is to select reputable shops and/or sellers (DealExtreme, GeekBuying, sellers with lots of good reviews on Ebay/Aliexpress), set your expectation in terms of shipping time (one month is normal), be aware of typical tricks, and start with a small amount, if you are worried about custom duties, and not sure what to expect on this front. Most of the time, I’ve have good experience with my Chinese e-shopping adventures. Comments are more than welcome about your own experiences, remarks, and questions.
Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.
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