Do you buy items from AliExpress? Be mindful of what you'll face if having to return an item

I’ve bought many items from AliExpress over the years and in time their consumer portal has gotten better. Previously there was no recourse to ever return an item that turned out to be defective or didn’t measure up to expectations, mainly because of the high return shipping costs. AliExpress would coordinate with the seller and if you could prove without a doubt that an item was defective (e.g. uploading a detailed video), you could get either a partial refund or full refund.

Some listings on AliExpress now feature a free return option. When you submit an issue, you can request to return the item “if approved.” AliExpress then generates a return label.

Well, I had a problem with an item that has what I deem a design flaw. And it’s not documented in the product page. That would be for an electronic item, and the user interface. If the page was adequately documented, I would have seen the limitation and not bought the item. Anyway, I started a return process. They actually required that a video be provided. So, I provided it. This was tricky, as recording a video on my phone results in a huge file (100Mb) and it’s something I can’t easily upload. I had to do a direct upload to YouTube. Once there, I could download it in a compressed format. That was now able to be uploaded.

The seller suddenly stepped in with a message to me. “Sorry to hear you don’t like the item my friend. Can you please give it as a gift to someone?” So… now you see, they’re trying to back out of honoring their stated return option. I declined. At that point, AliExpress continued processing and then issued me a return label. The address is for some kind of consolidation warehouse located in my own state, surprisingly. However, the label was generated incorrectly. Whoever entered the information in the database made an error of copying the entire address in the “Address 1” field. The other fields were correct, but when generated, the label looks like a mess. USPS would not accept this. So I had to contact AliExpress to get this corrected.

Meanwhile, the seller once again tried to stop me from returning the item. They opened up a dispute case, where I would select an option for a refund of $4 USD. The item was $20 USD. Once again, I declined. But in the interface, I am forced to provide images or videos. I just took a screenshot of the product page with the mouse-over of the “free returns” hotlink, showing “Not satisfied with your order? Send it back within 15 days after receipt.” And I reiterated my need for return on the product not measuring up to requirements, partly due to the product page not identifying the limitation.

I’m expecting to get a new return label from AliExpress by the next business day. But as you can see, trying to return something ends up with “haggling” from a seller, resistant to following through with their promises. And this weird address label problem… causes me to question if this was deliberate; if I had gone to USPS and faced the rejection, would that frustrate me into taking a refund? I wonder if this is what was hoped for from either AliExpress or the seller. Anyway, I’ll follow-up with the end result later on.

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I shop on AliExpress and if I had to put a number on it, I’d say my overall satisfaction hovers around 60%. I think of it like going to the Jockey Lot. There’s a whole lot of everything, mostly forgettable, but you can’t help but hope you’ve stumbled upon a rare find. More often than not, it turns out to be meh at best. The vendors are ever-changing, and good luck trying to return anything. But this is the nature of the beast, so it’s hard to fault the business model too much.

AliExpress really is like the wild west of online shopping. The prices are as varied as the products. Sometimes, you might actually find a ‘good deal’, and I don’t just mean in price, but in scoring something that’s almost decent quality-wise.

I also use Alibaba quite a bit for sourcing manufacturing needs. That’s a different kind of platform and generally a step up, with sellers and manufacturers who seem to have a better grasp of business ethics and integrity. Still, it’s not without its flaws.

Browsing on AliExpress is entertaining, but it’s like cashing in your arcade tickets for some quirky prize. It’s fun in the moment, but that dopamine hit fades pretty quickly

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Well said!
I do find that AliExpress can have some pretty decent deals. Sometimes cheap is cheap, though. You pay very little and get crap for it. For known products, it can net some decent discounts. For example, on LED flashlights. But I know the brands Sofirn, Lumintop, and Wurkkos from the Budget Light Forum and they have their own consumer retail sites as well. And, at times what looks like a good deal on AliExpress isn’t as good as on their own site.

But there’s also the matter of shipping. I’ve found lately AliExpress has improved a lot on this. Firstly, you now get the tracking info from China and enroute, while the USA based tracking is unknown. Some of them transfer nicely to USPS and other vendors. I’ve had very good luck being able to keep track. And now, they’ve been trending to do consolidation. So if you order a number of things from multiple vendors, instead of getting piecemeal packages, you can end up with one consolidated package. This helps reduce chances of loss. Also, their shipping times seem to be a good bit faster than they used to. One time I ordered something and it came in just 1 week!

I agree, rare finds can be difficult. It depends upon what the item is. There is some handcrafted stuff that can be really nice, better than expected.

One sour buy I had was super cheap. It was a pack of USB LED lights. Very simple. Just plug in and no switch or brightness control. But the package was $1.25 for a set of 7. The tint looks really nice and it’s a good brightness. BUT… in the USB-A socket, the block flange that restricts orientation isn’t firmly seated. I tried to seat one in and it turned out to be the wrong orientation. Not much force applied, and the darn thing slid inside, making it impossible to achieve contact, so the light won’t go on. I tested them all and that piece isn’t firmly affixed. I’ll have to slip in some super glue to help prevent that. It’s pretty stupid of them to make something like that. I’d pay $2 if they didn’t have this flaw.

While I did start this off with a gripe about a return struggle, I’ve pretty much been fine with over 90% of what I’ve bought.

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AliExpress can be a hit for me, especially when I’m eyeing guitar parts. I wait for those moments when the stars align and I can snag something at a good price. A prime example is guitar necks. Most of the cheaper suppliers on AliExpress don’t have great quality control, so usually, it’s not worth it for me because of all the rework needed. But occasionally, there’s a special deal where I can get a CNC cut neck, including free shipping, for almost less than the cost of the wood itself. Then, I have to put in some work, like removing the metal frets and refretting, but sometimes it’s worth it. Just the other day, I managed to pick up some Canadian maple Fender style necks with abalone inlays for under $30 each, with free shipping. They arrived really fast, but they’ll need to be refretted. Still, it’s easier than having to cut the neck out myself.

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Been meaning to complete my 925 35 collection with one order from ali exp but so far i have been slightly sceptical. I guess it wont hurt to try ordering one and seeing if it arrives in time and is real.

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My advice is, check out the seller first and foremost. Each seller has a rating. I don’t know how accurate they tend to be, but I’ve found that as long as you’ve got a seller over 90%, you’re generally good. I have taken risks with ones having lower ratings, and had some problems. Overall, they do have some decent prices for mainstream high volume writing instruments. Unfortunately, with some there aren’t good deals. For instance, the Kuru Toga Dive. For a time, you could buy them for about $70 USD. I was waiting for them to drop… and then with the release of the Aurora (Purple) edition? The prices jumped up to $90 USD (average) for all versions.

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Well, it’s February 10th. I have been in touch with AliExpress customer service via chat twice. The first time was bizarre… the person was overly polite to the point of looking suspicious. And she seemed to have trouble comprehending. I had to supply various pieces of information multiple times, including a screen shot of the request in process. After 5 days and no follow up, I connect again. This time the person is a bit more normal and asks me the same kind of information yet again (wouldn’t it be in their case log?). I had to give it only once, though. He promised a “special escalation” with the support team and that I should receive a new RMA label in 2 business days… which means on Monday.

Then, I get another email from AliExpress.

Thank you for contacting AliExpress regarding order 818347107959xxxx.

The platform has noticed that your order is currently in the dispute period. Since the buyer has only one chance to upload the evidence, if you miss it or have uploaded once, you will not have the opportunity to upload the evidence. But you can upload the evidence to the seller. You can provide video or picture evidence to communicate and negotiate with the seller, and we will have a specialist to see it and deal with it. Please wait patiently.
You may log in your account My AliExpress–Select Order–Request in process/Request finished to check the latest information.

Your understanding and cooperation is highly appreciated and we hope you have a great experience shopping with AliExpress.

This is nuts. The product page clearly indicated if I was unsatisfied I could initiate a free return and send back the item. That was in process. The problem was the RMA label they generated had a faulty address. That’s all I’m trying to get them to fix. And this email is going on about submitting “evidence” and that I have only “one chance” to do so. WTH?
This has nothing to do with the seller any longer.

My feeling is that AliExpress wants to give me the runaround over and over to tire me out so I’ll give up and keep the item. This is highly unprofessional and absolutely reprehensible. I will NOT be buying from AliExpress for anything beyond small cost items that I’d never return.

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Another update.

So, upon my own initiative, I went back to USPS and had them re-check the shipping label.

USPS did cite that the address label as provided was faulty and could result in a faulty delivery attempt or with a package returned to sender. However, since the bar code was coming up valid (despite the flawed address), they proposed I edit the label and fix the printed alphabetically depicted address. Because the bar code would definitely take the package to the postal hub nearest the zip code. And despite the faulty address line 1, a corrected reference could be relied upon for final delivery.

THUS… I edited the label, printed it, affixed it to the box, and gave it to USPS. Yesterday, it was noted as arriving at its destination. According to AliExpress, it will take a few business days for it to be registered in the warehouse tracking system.

MEANWHILE… the seller of this product reached out to me and said the product hasn’t arrived yet. And this is yet another vexing screw-up by AliExpress. It turns out the tracking number is being fed as a parameter of the Global Cainiao international tracking service. It’s the de-facto tracking for China Post related packages. Thus, for domestic shipping within the USA? The number is meaningless to them. And the seller is seeing Cainiao report that it does not see the package.

Hopefully by Friday AliExpress will formally acknowledge receipt of the package. There is a small but possible chance that they could simply opt to say “we don’t have it.” And at that point, refer me to USPS to clarify tracking… sending me on yet another wasted journey. Hopefully it won’t come to that.