Is AliExpress any good?

Is AliExpress any good

Is AliExpress any good is a difficult question to answer in a single word. It is ‘a pig and a poke‘ to some extent. Having spent quite a lot of time in Hong Kong, AliExpress has many of the attributes of a Hong Kong street market. I.e. quite a lot of junk, some quite good stuff and a few absolute gems. Then, just occasionally, I stumble upon a piece of engineering that I think one could fairly describe as ‘pure genius’, especially from some of the small specialist manufacturers.

2004-01-06 Temple Street Night Market Kowloon, Hong Kong Temple Street Night Market, Kowloon, Hong Kong

There is a tendency in the West to underestimate the Chinese. We assume all they can do is produce cheap knock-offs. Whilst China is indeed very good at producing cheap knock-offs, she also has some very gifted craftsmen, engineers and scientists. It you take the back off your computer or phone, chances are that most-if-not-all of it is made in China. They are not afraid to take an idea and develop it, not just to make it cheaper, but also to make it better.

Example: in the 1950’s the worlds best shortwave radios were almost all British or American. By the end of the 1970’s they were mostly Japanese, occasionally German or even Norwegian. Today it’s China leading the way. And there are a heck of a lot of very tempting offers.

I had an AliExpress account for well over a decade. I’ve bought quite a lot of stuff from Ali too. Mostly electronic components and hard-to-get spares. I’ve been an electronics enthusiast ever since I was a kid. I built my first radio when I was 10. So places such as Ali are manna from heaven for me – especially now almost all the UK electronics component shops have gone – even Maplin, sadly.

Hard-to-find spare parts

Thing I enjoy about AliExpress and its ilk, is that one can find components and spares, semiconductors, connectors etc. that cost an absolute fortune in the West, and are virtually impossible to find here in post-Brexit Britain. And there are some amazing bits of kit that I didn’t even know existed. For example, a couple of my recent AliExpress purchases, that I think fit somewhere between the aforementioned ‘gem‘ and ‘genius‘ categories…

So if you can get your head around Ali’s rather idiosyncratic search engine and have an hour or two to spare, it’s well worth a look. You need a good understanding of what you are buying, and pay careful attention to the detail. Items that look the same, can prove to be quite different once you study the specifications.

Kowloon, Hong Kong, at night "you must buy" sign. Kowloon, Hong Kong, at night “you must buy” sign.

Can I get my money back?

Ali’s refund policy is generally pretty good too – similar rules to eBay. If something arrives damaged, be sure to photograph it and open a dispute immediately. If it has moving parts then take a video too. Simple mobile phone video is perfectly adequate. Also, considering you are buying from a foreign company in a foreign jurisdiction, it is always wise to purchase via some sort of escrow-like arrangement, such as Paypal.

One final point, especially for British buyers

These days market places such as AliExpress often have a VAT arrangement with HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). I can’t remember what the limit is these days, but up to a few hundred quid, AliExpress collects the VAT, gives it to HMRC, on condition that the product sails though customs without issue. But since Ali is an international market place, VAT is not included in the on-screen prices. Sometimes, once you add the VAT, it can actually be cheaper and quicker to buy the item via eBay or Amazon instead.

In conclusion, AliExpress is a great market place, you can literally spend hours there just wandering around and pick up some absolute bargains. But like most markets, you need your wits about you, before you prise-open your proverbial wallet.

AliExpress is part of the AliBaba Group. More information:

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